Sunday, July 17, 2011

Meatless Monday: Economical Spinach Pesto, Goat Cheese Croquettes, and S'mores Bars

My almost 9 year-old son asked whether or not vegans could wear wool.  I had to think about it, but it launched a whole conversation about vegetarianism, and I brought up the concept of Meatless Mondays.  The kids got really excited.  REALLY excited, to the point where it was almost disturbing. My son started talking about how we should do a whole meatless week at least once a year. My 5 year-old daughter was a little apprehensive about this, and asked, "But what about bacon???" I told her that we could probably live without bacon for a week. She's still skeptical. This week, coincidentally, Claire and I didn't really have any meat recipes anyway, so we decided to make it a meatless post. It's not a vegan post, so feel free to wear wool socks while you eat.

Goat Cheese Croquettes
I buy the cheese at Costco, where you can get a pound for about $6. These are unbelievably good. Freezing them for a bit before you fry them up helps them hold their shape a little better. Slice, dip, freeze, fry, eat.  That's really all there is to it.

With Balsamic Rooster Vinaigrette (recipe below).
I also added a few chopped scallions
and a handful of pistachios and ripe figs.
1-2 logs of Chevre cheese
1 - 2 cups bread crumbs, any type
canola oil for cooking

Slice the Chevre logs into 3/8 inch circles. Press each circle, front and back, into the bread crumbs and lay out on a plate. Put the plate in the freezer until you are just about ready to serve.   Heat enough oil in a small sautee pan so that the Chevre discs have enough to float. When the oil sizzles with a drop of water, carefully put the Chevre circles into the oil. Let them brown on one side, and flip after a few seconds.  You want the oil hot enough so that the cheese browns quickly. If you have it in the oil too long, it will melt and disintegrate. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Rooster Vinaigrette
Blanche, a co-worker who loves to cook, gave us this little hint for a nice variation from boring vinaigrette. The Rooster Sauce is easy to find in the Asian aisle, and just a few drops will not make the dressing spicy.  Keep this on file when you're tired of everything else, but once you've tried it it will become a go-to recipe.

1/3 c balsamic vinegar
2/3 c olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
2 squirts of Rooster sauce
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper

Shake or whisk all ingredients until emulsified.

Spinach Basil Pesto
When my boyfriend, now husband, and I were just out of college, we had a lot of strategies for stretching our dollar. At that time, fresh basil and pine nuts were specialty items and tended to be on the expensive side.  They can still be pretty pricey especially when out of season, and so one way to make the basil stretch is to use mostly spinach.  I also substitute sunflower seeds for pine nuts, and the flavor is still wonderful.  The spinach gives it a more saucey consistency, so I am able to use proportionately less oil. I've made an occasional batch with a handful of pistachios, which adds a wonderful fullness to the sauce. You can eyeball the ingredients.  My kids love this, and it also makes great dip!  Claire's boys listed this as one of their top three dinners. No joke.

1 cup fresh basil leaves
6 cups spinach leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 c sunflower seeds or pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
salt (don't skimp, but if the nuts are salted, don't overdo it)
freshly ground pepper

Chop the garlic finely in a food processor. Add the sunflower seeds or pine nuts and chop them with the garlic. You may need to add a little oil to get it to process well.  Take out half of the garlic/nut mixture and add in a handful or two of the spinach and basil leaves. Process in batches, adding oil as necessary, until the mixture is almost frothy. Salt and pepper to taste.  Drain and rinse your pasta, and put the pot back on the burner. Add the appropriate amount of pesto, and stir just for a minute before adding your cooked pasta and turning off the heat. Toss in fresh grated parmesan, and serve!
This is much lighter and less oily than traditional pesto.
It is more of a "sauce," yet retains that fresh basil nutty flavor.
I also like to use it as a pizza "sauce." The kids love it! 
Putting it together...
Tired of pasta?  Try these other tasty combinations... My recipe for Roasted Mini Sweet Peppers is on an earlier post,  I used regular sized red and yellow peppers this time.

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwich 
(with Spinach Pesto Spread)
Kale chips on the side!

Spinach Pesto and Roasted Sweet Pepper Pizza 
I added some pistachios and grated mozzarella cheese.  
This is also great with a combination of mozzarella and smoked Gruyere.

You can make your own dough, or in a pinch,
pre-made pizza dough is easily available at the grocery.
Kale Chips
You may find this hard to believe, but once you make these, it's hard to stop eating them.  They are crisp and light.  I like them just shy of burnt.  My kids LOVE them. My toddlers will jam fistfuls into their mouths. The basic premise is high heat, short time. My son reminded me to mention that it's better if you trim the stems, which don't crisp well.  And the flatter the kale, the better. 

I usually like them just a little more done than this.
The reason there are so few kale chips in the photo is
that we ate a lot of them between the oven and the table.
Wash and prepare kale by trimming off the stems and breaking the leaves into bite size pieces.  If you have Russian kale or another flat-leafed variety, you can use the whole leaf, but still trim the thick stem. Toss with a light drizzle of olive oil and arrange on a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Bake at 450 degrees for 4-5 minutes, until they are dark green.  You can also broil on high for 4-5 minutes.

S'mores Cookie Bars
Claire found this recipe on another cooking blog, and we had to try them. You may want to just make two batches up front.

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s)
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff (not melted marshmallows)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined.
Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate bars over dough. 2 king-sized Hershey’s bars should fit perfectly side by side, but break the chocolate (if necessary) to get it to fit in a single layer no more than 1/4 inch thick. Spread chocolate with marshmallow creme or fluff. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff (most easily achieved by flattening the dough into small shingles and laying them together).

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.  Makes 16 cookie bars.

Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (28oz)
Rooster sauce.

1 comment:

  1. I made the Spinach Basil Pesto the other night. Not only did it save me a trip to the grocery store (love the substitution tips!) but Adam (the world's pickiest eater) kept asking to have his plate refilled. It was a miracle!