Friday, December 05, 2008

Crazy Breakfast: Karl's Mushroom and Sauerkraut Frittata

Karl and I wanted a hearty breakfast to get us moving today. Neither of us had class this morning, so we decided to cook something a little more fancy than the usual oatmeal with dried fruit.

We managed to do it without purchasing anything extra. I fried up the bacon that we had left over from our first turkey, and planned to make a frittata with whatever was around. A frittata is a lot like an omelet. It's usually thicker, though, and instead of adding any "filling" after the egg has cooked, then folding the omelet over, you usually just pour the egg over the "filling" and cook it around it. The frittata is generally served by slicing it into wedges, similar to a pie.

Karl, ever the creative one, chose our frittata filling by, apparently, thinking of the ingredients most unlikely to complement one another. His genius plan was to make a sauerkraut, mushroom, onion, and garlic frittata. I made some mild protests, but he insisted that he felt good about this one.

Sauerkraut is awesome. We regularly purchase cans of Valutime sauerkraut for snacking (and at only $0.50 per can, you can't go wrong!). reveals that canned, low-sodium sauerkraut is low-calorie (34 calories per serving), very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and a good source of calcium, magnesium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, etc., etc. The list goes on. So, if you can get over the smell, which apparently some people find unpleasant, it's a great way to snack healthily, especially if you are fond of other pickled foods (like, duh, pickles).

Despite my love for sauerkraut, I was skeptical that eggs, mushrooms, and sauerkraut were a match made in heaven (especially for breakfast!). However, Karl's sense of adventure is contagious, and I knew he'd eat it no matter how horrible it was (waste not, want not!). I also knew there was a container of oatmeal in the pantry in case I had to call on the backup breakfast reserves.

Well, I have to hand it to Karl: all my cooking instincts and intuitions were dead wrong. Karl's quirky breakfast concoction was delicious. I am actually looking forward to making this again. The sauerkraut wasn't too strong after it cooked for a few minutes with the onions, garlic, and mushrooms, and added just enough of its lovely sour tang to make the frittata taste magical.

Try it for yourself! This is a great way to serve a healthy, more impressive breakfast, and the total cost was actually not high. The most expensive ingredient will be the mushrooms, but you can often find crimini mushrooms or white button mushrooms on sale for 1 pint for $2 or less.

A tip for making frittata: we used a special Calphalon pan set designed precisely for frittatas (a gift from Karl's parents, thank you!), which includes a second pan that fits on top of the first pan to make flipping clean and easy.* If you don't have such a pan set, don't worry! Just preheat your broiler before you start the frittata, and make sure you use an oven safe pan. Once you think the bottom of the frittata is cooked, just remove it from the stovetop and put it under the broiler for about 2 minutes (not too close to the broiler). Your frittata will be perfectly cooked, and you won't have to try to flip it expertly in the pan. The extra filling can make the egg heavy and you will most likely just make a mess.

If you are using the frittata pan set, we have found it works better if the separate pan is preheated over a low flame so that it is hot when it receives the frittata (otherwise, cooking the other side takes forever).

Bon appétit!

Karl's Crazy Mushroom and Sauerkraut Frittata
Serves 2

1/2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
3 TBSP onion, chopped fine
1 cup sliced crimini (a.k.a. baby portabella) mushrooms, or any other mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup canned sauerkraut
4 eggs, beaten well
1 TBSP grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat broiler if not using a frittata pan set.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 3 or 4 minutes). Add the mushrooms, and continue to cook for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauerkraut, and cook 2 more minutes.

Pour the beaten eggs over the mushroom/sauerkraut mixture in the pan. As the eggs cook, use a heat-resistant spatula to lift the sides away from the pan and allow more liquid egg to flow into the resulting space. Repeat until most of the egg is set.

If using a frittata pan set like ours, place the second pan on top of the first and flip quickly. Give a gentle shake to make sure the frittata falls into what is now the bottom pan. Remove the top pan.

Sprinkle with cheese, if using, and replace the top pan (to help it melt).

Remove the fritatta from heat after about 2 or 3 minutes at the most. Serve hot.

*Our frittata stuck to the bottom of the pan a little, so it didn't transfer as beautifully during the "flip." Oh well! It still tasted like a million bucks.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not: Roasted and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Karl and I bought a pumpkin before Halloween. We had grandiose plans to make pumpkin wine by scooping out the insides, rubbing sugar all over the flesh, sealing it back up with wax, then letting it naturally ferment for a few weeks. Apparently, you get pumpkin wine out of all this, and it would have been a fun experiment, but our lives got busy, and the pumpkin sat out on my fire escape for about a month before I remembered it existed. C'est la vie!

Last weekend, I determined to cut up and roast the pumpkin, then freeze for a rainy day (I'm thinking soups and stews rather than pies, as our pumpkin was quite large. The smaller ones are better for pies, or so they say). And so I did.

One of the best things about pumpkins are the seeds. I think a lot of people just throw them away when they make their jack'o'lanterns for Halloween, but when I was growing up we always dried them out and roasted them in the oven with a little bit of salt. What a tasty snack! It's relatively health, though a little higher-calorie than I would have thought. According to, 1 cup of pumpkin seeds (without salt) is 285 calories, with 2 grams of saturated fat. NutritionData also touts pumpkin seeds as a good source of protein, magnesium, and zinc.

When you scoop the seeds out of a pumpkin, they're usually covered with the stringy, slimy innards of the pumpkin (which you probably will want to discard). I simply put all the seeds in a colander and spray them with water until the stringy bits are detached from the seeds. You will probably have to pick through to get the last few stringy bits, but it's not difficult or time-consuming. Since my pumpkin was a little older, there were also some seeds that had sprouted. I discarded those, although, in retrospect, they might have tasted time!
I spiced up my pumpkin seeds with Spanish paprika and Hot Curry Powder (Penzey's Spices), but you could simply use salt (classic), or be even more adventurous and use a blend of spices (e.g., cumin, cardamom, coriander, chile powder, etc.). Anything goes!

Happy snacking!

Roasted and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds, rinsed and dried completely
1 TBSP margarine, butter, or oil
1/2 tsp salt, or more or less to taste
1/2 TBSP spices of choice (e.g., Spanish Paprika, Hot Curry Powder)

Preheat oven to 300˚F.
Melt the margarine or butter, if using, and pour into a small bowl. Mix in the salt and spices until well blended. Stir in the pumpkin seeds, tossing until well coated.

Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake 30-45 minutes, or until well toasted. You should give them a stir every 10-15 minutes or so to make sure they aren't burning.

Allow to cool before eating.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The First Turkey

Karl and I committed to bringing a turkey to a friend's Thanksgiving gathering on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. There were going to be about 20-25 people there, but quite a few are vegetarian, so we figured a 14 lb bird would do the trick. We opted for a regular, store-brand bird (I'm still amazed that an organic turkey costs about $50...yikes!).

But how to cook it? Neither I nor Karl has ever made a turkey before, and the hundreds of horror stories floating around about bad "first turkey" experiences made me a little nervous. My own mother's first turkey experience included the classic "fail": she left the bag with the organs inside the cavity while it roasted. Whoops!

Armed with this tale, as well as with the memory of a turkey taking up an entire shelf of the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days before Thanksgiving (for defrosting), I approached the turkey optimistically: I'm a fairly capable chef, so I wasn't too worried. But how to make a turkey that was impressive, fabulous, and the envy of all my friends (let's be honest: this is my goal any time I'm bringing edibles to a party)?

We hopped on the Internet and almost immediately found a Food Network (Tyler Florence) recipe for cornbread-stuffed, Maple-roasted turkey with bacon. I was about to scroll on by, but Karl stopped me and said, "That one." I thought it sounded a bit fancy (i.e. we'd need to buy expensive ingredients), but it turned out that, besides the bird, we only needed to purchase fresh sage, bacon, and cornbread mix. I had everything else lying around the apartment. Great!

This is what the turkey looked like when we put it into the oven. It looks pretty lumpy because we stuffed a LOT of sage-butter under the skin of the turkey (as the recipe required). However, we did not use all the butter called for in the recipe on the turkey. I ended up dotting the rest of it on our "outside-the-bird" stuffing. It just seemed like an awful lot of butter, and you might want to cut the amount of butter you make in half.

4-and-a-half hours* and a lot of anxious temperature checks later (the turkey was supposed to be done in 3, based on its weight), we loaded the turkey into the car and drove the party with it intact. We had planned to slice it up and transport it in tupperware before going over for simplicity's sake, but I'm almost glad it ended up taking so long because it made such an impressive sight sitting there on the counter. Many satisfying "oohs" and "ahhs" were heard from the other guests.

And so, our first turkey turned out awesome. The turkey was moist and tender (even the breast), the bacon we covered it with 2 hours into roasting tasted absolutely fantastic, and the stuffing, though simple, was excellent. And it looked like a million bucks. Everyone was very impressed, even though they had waited an extra hour for the turkey (and the rest of the food! I have such patient friends).

I'm not going to re-print the recipe here. You can just click on the title of this blog entry or here to see Tyler Florence's recipe, to which we made only one change besides not using all the butter for under the turkey's skin (we added a couple of drops of Liquid Smoke to the maple syrup/water basting liquid).

I highly recommended this recipe for a first turkey. It's not as fancy as it sounds, and Tyler Florence's instructions are very comprehensive, in my opinion.

* We speculate that the reason for the turkey's extra long oven time was that we roasted my vegan roomie's Tofurkey in the same oven (in a cast-iron pot, no less). This probably soaked up quite a bit of the heat, and as a result, the turkey cooked more slowly. Keep this in mind if you are hosting Thanksgiving! It might be better to cook all your side-dishes ahead of time, roast the turkey alone, then reheat the side dishes in the oven while the turkey is resting/being sliced up.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Soup's On: Spiced Parsnip and Apple Soup with Parsnip Chips

It's starting to get chilly out there! I love winter, because it means that the soup pot will be put to more regular use. Soup is so comforting, so versatile, and so delicious.

Last year, Karl and I started using parsnips more often. The parsnip is an overlooked vegetable, and I just love the tangy and earthy flavor. If you've never had one, it tastes a lot like a carrot, but stronger.

Well, Karl and I have used parsnips in bean stews and we've roasted them (side note: roasting parsnips is amazing! It changes the flavors subtly and makes a tasty snack), but we've never had a dish in which parsnips were really featured. So, I was excited to try out a parsnip-based soup!

This recipe comes from one of my many soup cookbooks, "The SmartCook Collection: Soup" by Delia Smith. The soup was excellent. The original recipe called for 1 1/4 tsp of coriander seeds, but I couldn't find any at the grocery store on short notice (not sure what was up with that), so I just left those out. It turned out for the best, I think: the more spices added into this dish, the less the parsnip will shine. I also made some other substitutions (margarine for butter, curry powder for turmeric, etc.) both to accommodate my vegan roomie and to avoid buying unnecessary spices. The soup as I made it perfectly exhibits the potential of parsnip. The apple grated in at the end was a nice touch, but maybe wasn't absolutely necessary.

I don't usually bother with soup garnishes, but this time, I made an exception and fried up some thinly sliced discs of parsnip into parsnip chips. It is well worth it to go to the trouble of making the parsnip chips for a garnish (or just for a snack): they are so flavorful and add some interest to the puréed soup. If you're pressed for time, or just don't feel like heating up a pan of oil, you can use potato chips, veggie chips, or croutons. If you're into presentation, I think it might also be pretty to garnish with a spiral of apple peel, or even a wedge of apple.

Eat up, and stay warm out there.

Spiced Parsnip and Apple Soup with Parsnip Chips
Serves 4-6

1 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
6 whole cardamom pods, seeds only
3 TBSP margarine
1 TBSP canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/4 tsp sweet curry powder
2 tsp minced fresh ginger root
1 1/2 lbs parsnips
5 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
Parnsip Chips (fry thin slices of parsnips in a 1/2 inch of oil until light brown and crispy)
1 Granny Smith apple

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Dry-roast the cumin and cardamom seeds in the skillet (this "excites" the flavors"). This only takes 2-3 minutes (don't burn them!). Crush the spices finely in a mortar and pestle, or use the back of a spoon to crush them in a bowl.
Peel and chop the parsnips into chunks (the smaller you chop, the shorter the cooking time, but it doesn't really matter what they look like as long as the pieces are approximately the same size).
Heat the margarine and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until the margarine foams a little. Add the onions and gently cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in the toasted, ground spices, and also the curry powder and ginger root. Stir, and cook gently for a few more minutes.
Add the parsnips to the saucepan, stirring well, then pour in the stock. Add salt and pepper, then let the soup gently simmer uncovered for about an hour, or until the parsnips are very tender (fork will pierce easily).
When the soup has been simmering for an hour, remove it from the heat and cool it slightly. Use either an immersion blender, upright blender, or food processor to puree the soup. Return the pureed soup to the saucepan and taste to check the seasoning.
When ready to serve, reheat the soup over medium heat. Grate the apple into the soup and stir. Serve hot, garnished with parsnip chips.