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Showing posts with label meal prepping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meal prepping. Show all posts

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Silky Smooth Tomato Eggplant Bisque


And - surprise - this version is vegan! 

Tomato soup has been one of my absolute favorites since childhood. When I was little, I had terrible separation anxiety so my dad would always bring me home for lunch during first, second, and third grade. This was a small enough gesture as a parent, considering that I only lived within walking distance of my elementary school, but I can tell you that it meant the world to me at the time. He wasn't much of a cook, but his special lunch that he would fix for me would be tomato soup and grilled cheese. 

Fast forward to my career as a chef and I get a job at this incredibly fancy country club - which shall remain nameless - and one of my first tasks is to produce a couple of gallons of their tomato eggplant bisque with Israeli couscous and saffron oil. I was a young sprig of a girl still and didn't realize exactly what I was making, but I followed the recipe to the letter and - when it was finished - I realized that I'd made tomato soup! This was not just my dad's tomato soup out of the can, though...this had depth and complexity like I didn't know it could have. While this here is not the exact recipe that I learned that day (which would be frankly unethical to share anyhow), this is my own version that I love to throw together when summer is turning to fall. After all, fall is soup season!

As always, thanks so much to KC Farm School at Gibbs Road for the veggies!

Tomato Eggplant Bisque

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed 
  • 2 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 32 oz jar of chopped canned tomatoes
    • I made my own this year from the bounty of the summer. I don't have my canning recipe for that, but please check out my canning method and the recipe for Pickled Pears, if you're so inclined!
  • 1 14 oz can of full fat coconut cream
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, as needed
Add a generous glug of olive oil to the bottom of a thick-bottomed soup casserole...aka a dutch oven. Heat over a medium flame and add the onion and garlic. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper and cover to let sweat for about 15 minutes on low. Meanwhile, lay your eggplant slices out on a cutting board and season generously with kosher salt. You're going to be drawing out the bitterness!



When 15 minutes pass, blot the bitter moisture off of the eggplant with paper towels. Don't worry about any discoloration that might appear; it'll all be blended into the soup. When your eggplant slices are patted dry, run your knife through them one more time to chop them into chunks. It doesn't matter too much how pretty they are, just as long as they're small enough to all fit into the pot. Uncover the onions mixture, give it a good stir, and add in your eggplant. Add your tomatoes, too, and bring them up to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer and let cook for about 5 minutes. Add the can of coconut cream as well as one can-full of water from the tap to rinse out any little goodies you may have left in there. Bring everything up to a rolling boil and stir well. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for at least 30 minutes. 

It's at this point that you can actually pop this in the fridge and let the soup base hang out overnight in the fridge if you so choose. This, like many fall meals, is an excellent dish to make ahead. Even better, the flavors will meld and mesh the longer it sits. The absolute ideal is 24 hours, but I won't make you wait. You can also - if you really want to - ladle this soup base into quart freezer bags and freeze them for up to 3 months. To be honest, I'll likely be doing this at least once in preparation for my baby. 

When you're ready to have your soup, bring it up to a boil again and immediately remove from the heat. Add your soup base mixture to the pitcher of a blender and blend on low for 2 minutes, then medium for 45 seconds, then high for 1 minute. If you must do this in batches, that's a-okay. The goal is to create a silky-smooth bisque of a soup with a bright red color. If you're feeling fancy, make yourself a grilled cheese sandwich to go with it. 


You may garnish this with fresh herbs if you like, but to serve it I simply prefer a drizzle of good olive oil and a few grinds of black pepper. Some people like to have it with parmesan cheese, and I've even heard of a person or two using a dash of hot sauce and a crispy fried egg. Honestly, do whatever makes you happy. This is your soup when you make it. 

I love this dish because it's a gorgeous color, vibrantly healthy, filling enough to be lunch or dinner, and it reminds me that my dad loved me enough to try in the only way he knew how. I especially love dipping a grilled cheese sandwich into this soup, but I love it just as much while drinking it from a mug with a few crackers sprinkled on top.

I hope this end-of-summer dish has inspired you to use eggplants and tomatoes together. You may not think they work, but I assure you they do. Eggplants and tomatoes are both nightshades, you know! This means they are from the same family, but please don't eat the greens, lest you get sick. Oddly enough, though, any nightshade vegetable will give you the benefit of all of the gorgeous antioxidants they contain, which are vital in repairing cells that were damaged due to stress. I don't know about you, but I could use some stress relief in my life...

Thanks so much for spending a piece of your day with me. I hope I've inspired you to cook in your own kitchen today and to preserve the bounty of your garden through food prep, food stocking, or even just taking tons of pictures of the stuff before eating it. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese



In addition to pancakes, I'm addicted to two other things: steak, and macaroni and cheese. My @Instagram is full of all three of those things!




A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

Sorry, vegans - I'm not ACTUALLY one of you, but I do have a severely lactose intolerant husband and I'm both east Asian and Jewish so I really shouldn't be eating much dairy anyhow. It's really easy to cut dairy out of your home cooking entirely, and because of my husband's dietary restrictions I don't even have any in the house. No milk, no cheese, no butter, no sour cream. Because of this, any vegetarian meal at home that we consume is automatically vegan.

Just so everyone is clear: Vegan = no animal products.

Many folks go on to make this synonymous with no animal suffering. I disagree with that, as the ideology - although I'm sure is well-intended - does have some issues. Honey, for example, is considered to be not vegan. Here's the thing, though - harvesting honey from bees doesn't harm them at all, and any beekeeper will tell you that. Furthermore, if you buy local honey it'll help you immensely with your seasonal allergies. Not to mention all the jobs you'll help create by buying honey from your local beekeepers, but more beekeepers often means more bees.

#LifeHack: 

  • If you ever find a wild hive that's come on your property, call your local apiary instead of an exterminator. Eight out of ten, they'll come and harvest that hive for you, free of charge, and will not kill the bees! The other two times, they'll give you the resources and phone numbers you need to call to get those bees off your property without harming the bees.


What is harmful is all of the agave we're consuming. Agave is a plant that grows in Mexico, and the amount that we're harvesting is harming bats, who depend on the nectar to survive. Bats consume a ridiculous amount of insects, including mosquitos which both carry disease and are a plague on this planet. Bats are good! Please, eat honey and skip the agave - save the bats.

As you can see, veganism is a dietary choice and not necessarily a moral compass. There are many reasons to go vegan! And here, we're going to have some vegan macaroni and cheese. It's 100% dairy-free for my lactose-intolerant people, and totally pareve for my observant Kosher Jewish followers. You know what that means? You can have this with meat!

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
serves 8
  • 1 lb pasta, cooked in salted water for 6 minutes until a hair harder than al dente (you'll be cooking it in the oven again, so it's okay if it's under-cooked)
    • Furthermore, you don't have to only use macaroni. You can use shell pasta, strascinati, penne, fiori, you name it! I do recommend using something that's not totally long and thin, though, as you'll want something sturdy for the oven. 
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter substitute, such as Earth Balance (you can also use coconut oil)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 can plain coconut cream (do not use the sweetened version, or this will taste like someone kicked you in the teeth and said "f*ck you")
  • 1/4 c tofu sour cream (Tofutti is the best)
  • 3/4 c vegan cream cheese (miyoko's and Tofutti make my favorite brands)
  • 2 c cheddar-style vegan cheese shreds (VioLife, Trader Joe's make the best cheeses)
This is your base recipe for the sauce. You can add more "cheeses" if you like, or substitute the cheddar-style for mozzerella style or pepperjack style. The beautiful thing about macaroni and cheese is that it's so incredibly versatile and you can add almost anything you like to it. Here is a full list of my favorite things you can stir in to your mac when you're ready to bake:
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  • Roasted brussells sprouts
  • Caramelized onions or leeks
  • Peas, fresh or frozen
  • Roasted squash, such as acorn squash or any kind of pumpkin
  • Braised winter greens (kale, mustard greens, etc)
  • Shaved asparagus
  • Spinach, fresh or cooked
  • Fresh herbs 
    • Dill
    • Savory
    • Tarragon
    • Parsley
Have I stirred other things into mac and cheese? Things like chopped chicken, beef sausage, roasted beets or cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes from my garden, chopped green beans and more? Absolutely! Those things up in that list, though, are my favorite things, and I encourage you to make this into a full meal by adding whatever you like. 

To make this simple dish, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a casserole dish, either one large one or two medium-sized ones. I love using this recipe because it can feed a large amount of people, but if it's just my husband and I then I will separate them into several dishes so we can cover, refrigerate, and bake off at a later date when I'm feeling a little lazy. 

Melt your butter in a thick-bottomed saucepot on a medium flame. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute, until just barely soft and brown. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk it together until it's smooth. You'll want to lower your flame just barely until it's all sort of simmering and cook this roux for at least five minutes. Open your can of coconut cream and add, bringing the flame up to medium-high. Bring this to a boil, whisking constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Add in your cream cheese and stir until incorporated. Sprinkle in your cheddar-style shreds, whisking constantly, a little at a time so as not to allow clumps. You may also add your fresh herbs at this stage, but it's up to you. 

Drain your pasta and toss with a little oil, and return it to your cooking pot. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to coat. It is now that you will add whichever mix-ins you like. The one in the first post at the top of the page has pumpkin, caramelized onions, and bok choi. Last month, I made one with peas and carrots. Just a few days ago, I made one with plenty of parsley and frazzled leeks. The point is: be creative!

I actually had some dairy-free cheese slices in the fridge so I thought it'd be fun to
add torn pieces of those throughout to get extra 'pockets' of cheesey goodness.

If you like a little extra crunch, you may crumble up some potato chips or crackers from your pantry and sprinkle on top, as well as some vegan parmesan shreds, extra cheese, panko bread crumbs...whatever you like! I don't always have panko bread crumbs in my pantry, but my husband is addicted to potato chips so I like to crush them up and put them on the top. 

You may bake the amount you need and put the rest of the dishes in the fridge to have at a later date. No matter what, you'll bake at 350 for 30 minutes from cold and only 20 minutes if you're baking this dish from hot. Serve hot, straight out of the casserole dish, and share this meal with a friend. While it is a wonderful thing to love one's own company, I am of the mind that it is unhealthy to eat alone. A good meal should be shared, so invite your neighbor over for food and get to know them. Or, you know, just post a picture of the mac and cheese on Facebook and see if any friends want to pop in. 

I hope you get out there and enjoy making mac and cheese. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cushaw Pumpkin Soup

I don't even need a filter for this gorgeous-ness
I am not vegan. I just happened to make a lot of vegan recipes because we're quite strictly dairy-free in this house. I feel like I should say that before we go any further, just so no poor, unsuspecting vegan follows my blog or twitter or instagram and then gets freaked out when they see a whole brisket on my feed.

Last summer, I grew my new favorite pumpkin, the noble and wondrous Cushaw pumpkin, to whom all other pumpkins should bow. I mean, come on.



Look at this magnificent thing. Look at the size, the lovely shape. Look at this gorgeous color.

So I had a ton of plans this weekend (some of which I didn't actually get to do) and one of them was to clear out at least a good portion of the #garden. Out of it came this monster. It is by far the biggest pumpkin I have ever grown and I'm kind of dumbstruck at it. It's called the #crookneck #pumpkin, or a #Cushaw pumpkin, and it is excellent for #pie, #soup, and pretty much every other classic pumpkin application you might think of. It's definitely one of the lesser-known varieties, but I don't know why. It's extremely prolific as a plant, and the #fruit itself is really cool-looking. Imagine that I would have had a lot more had the weather not been so weird, and I had not been battling squash beetles the entire season. I managed to get rid of a good portion of them today, so that was good. Anyway. Phew. #homestead #midwestlife #wannabgourmande #cheflife #foodiechats #foodblogger #KansasCity #localvore #gardening #heirloom #bakerseeds
A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on


And just look at the color of the flesh! Let's not forget about the flavor, which is - by the way - out of this world. It's so mild and gentle, like an autumn breeze. If Pumpkin Spice, the flavor, was a person who got up in your face and made you take selfies with them, dragged you out to pumpkin patches and feed you apple cider and made you hold their phone and take a million photos of them playing in the leaves for their Insta, then Cushaw is your actual chill friend that wears flannel because it's warm and plays the guitar for fun, and loves nothing more than to curl up alone at home with a good book while they watch the leaves fall from inside. Pumpkin Spice has her place, but she's so in your face sometimes. Cushaw just wants to have a good time. Pumpkin Spice is Gryffindor, while Cushaw is Hufflepuff. See the difference?



As you can see, I processed it so I could save it. It was too big to use my oven at home, so I used the oven at a wonderful commercial kitchen I know. I roasted it with oil and just a touch of salt at 325 for about an hour and change, until it was fork-tender, almost spreadable, like butter. Once cooled, this made it rather easy to scrape the flesh out of the skin and puree it in a food processor.

Yum.
Cushaw pumpkin's flavor is deliciously mild, and has a fresh and sort of tangy note, almost reminiscent of cheese. It doesn't smell fermented, of course, or especially sweet, but when pureed, it tastes of the most-amazing pumpkin cream cheese you could ever imagine, all smooth and luxurious, like a warm cashmere sweater or socks fresh from the dryer. It honestly tastes to me how velvet feels. That's how much I love cushaw pumpkins, and I didn't even know it.

When the pumpkins were growing in my garden, they were taking over, and growing bigger and bigger every day. I wasn't sure exactly what they were, especially because I hadn't ever seen a pumpkin that size or shape or color before, and was concerned about it. Nearing the end of that summer, I went to a local farmer's market and inquired about it. I showed a picture of the pumpkin to the woman running the squash stall and she sort of laughed.

"Yeah, that's a cushaw," she said. "The farmer's best kept secret."

"'Best kept secret?'" I said, feeling a bit like I'd struck some kind of lottery. I had gotten the Cushaw seeds at a seed exchange that hosts locally, but by the time I had planted them I'd already forgotten what kind they were, only that they were recognisable as pumpkin plants. "I take it they're tasty, then."

Mine was actually quite small as cushaws go, and I'm just a
home gardener! 
"Tasty and prolific," she said. She then went on to explain that the cushaw, in her opinion, had a much better flavor than your typical pie pumpkin did, and was a gem because it was so incredibly versatile. The flavor was sweet and mild, she said, but was gentle enough to be used in both sweet and savory applications. She liked them best because they were extremely prolific, and that it was a shame that nobody sold them. When I asked why, she said simply: "nobody knows."

We ended up talking for a long while about the cushaw pumpkin, and other pumpkins, for that matter, and what would fetch a good price at the market. People do want unusual pumpkins, but seldom for eating and more for decoration. She said that in recent years it'd gone up to 50/50 for decor vs. eating, and that the cushaws weren't a high-dollar pumpkin. Something funny-looking like an Australian Blue would fetch a minimum of $7 at a grocery store, and more at the local farmer's market. The cushaws go won't sell nearly as much, because they're not as visually interesting, and frankly don't look like the American idea of a pumpkin anyway. They often get too big for the regular oven, too, so most don't buy it because they don't want to spend the afternoon processing it.


I asked her how to preserve it best, and she said that I could just let it be. It'll get sweeter as it sits in the pantry anyhow, as the sugars will develop during the steady warmth of your house and produce a much better flavor. It is, she said, better to let a squash sort of 'cure' in the home for a month or two to really ripen up. She even told me that she's harvested cushaws in the fall and kept some until January or February and it was completely fine. That being said, she recommended freezing it, as canning could result in the stuff souring, and there's always the risk of botulism with canning when not done in a professional facility. Simply roasting and pureeing the stuff and saving it in the freezer simply was best. When I asked what she used them for, she simply shrugged and said "anything."

Anything? I thought. Pumpkin butters? Yes. Pies? Yes. Pasta and soup? Yes and yes. This variety is hardy, prolific, and versatile, and that's what made it the best-kept-secret of the Midwestern farmer. I personally think this squash is highly underrated and that we, as a society, need to recognize its superior quality among others. I am having a moment with Cushaw, and I think you should, as well. You can buy the seeds for them right here.

The thing about pumpkin is that it's rather fibrous, and while that's great for a lot of things, it's not 100% the best thing when using it for the kind of applications I'd be using it for, especially in its most raw form, and especially saving it. I passed the pumpkin through a tamis strainer(pronounced like "Tammy"), which looks quite a bit like a tambourine with a very fine wire screen over the drum bit in lieu of goat skin. The tamis is a wonderful tool that a lot of chefs adore, as it's the key to creating fine purees and silky smooth sauces. A chinoix is nice, sure, but you can't pass things through with good pressure like you can with a tamis.

Want a nice and smooth aioli? Tamis. Looking for a silky smooth avocado puree for a splash of color on your toast, perfect for instagram? Tamis. Itching for the smoothest and creamiest mashed potatoes you've ever had in your life? Tamis. I bought mine at the Sur la Table on the Plaza, but you can get yours on Amazon.

Passing the pumpkin puree through the tamis not only smooths it out like crazy, but you catch all of the bits of skin and whatnot that you may not have noticed before. It's an excellent tool and essential, especially, if you're going to be pureeing fruits and vegetables for applications such as baby food. Yes, you can make your own baby food; in fact, people have been doing it for centuries, likely at a much lower cost than buying at the grocery store, and with significant less waste in those glass jars and plastic containers.

I took the puree and froze it in quart-sized freezer Ziploc bags. Out of that one squash, I got about fourteen bags of puree for my freezer, all pretty and orange-yellow, so deliciously tasty. A quart is equivalent to roughly two cans of pumpkin puree, so there you go - ready for making twice as many pies as you normally might make. It really is a winning situation all around; I highly recommend that you make your own pumpkin puree for pies, cakes, muffins, etc. You won't regret it.

On to the soup.

Vegan Cushaw Soup
yields about 3 quarts

  • 1 quart Cushaw puree
  • 1/2 white onion, cut in chunks
  • 3 orange carrots, peeled and cut in coins
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 small cayennetta pepper, crushed(or 1/2 tsp cayenne powder)
  • 2 Tbsp vegan butter substitute(we all know I love Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup almond-coconut milk blend(or soy, if you prefer)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp white miso
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Heat the "butter" in a soup pot to melt, then add the onion, carrot, and garlic along with the crushed dried pepper. I had some dried peppers from my garden, but you can use a pinch of cayenne instead. Sweat it on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper, give it a good stir, and then add the water, milk, and miso paste. Bring to a boil and reduce it to a simmer, then allow to cook for about 15 more minutes, or until the vegetables are quite soft. 

Add in your pumpkin puree. If you're working with fresh, awesome. If you're working with frozen, thaw just a little by sticking your bag under running water, just enough to soften it, which shouldn't take long. If you pop the stuff into the pot while it's par-frozen, it's not the end of the world. The trick is, however, to let it cook quite gently so as not to destroy the mild flavor of the pumpkin and scorch it. 

Once everything is quite smooth and soft, pour your soup mix into the pitcher of a blender and blend for 30 seconds to a full minute, ensuring everything is velvety smooth. Return your pureed soup to the pan, correct the seasoning, and bring up to heat once again, only to about 190 degrees F, stirring constantly to ensure that your soup won't scorch. It's also important to check the consistency of the soup, and if it's a bit too thick to simply add another splash of whichever milk substitute you've been using and gently bring up to heat again.

Serve immediately and garnish with either parsley or some vegan parmesan cheese(I like Follow Your Heart's brand of parmesan). This is also a perfect soup to dip a grilled cheese in. Save whatever leftovers you have in either the fridge or freezer. Oh yes. You can freeze soup in tupperware containers, pop them in the microwave, and BAM instant dinner. See? Meal prepping can be easy. Your freezer is your best friend.

Thanks for reading. Happy cooking and happy eating!