Vegetarian Fondue – Great meal and a lot of fun

First, I should apologize for my absence.  Over the last three weeks I’ve been teaching some certification courses in my diocese.  I had a great time doing it, but it has pretty much consumed my life.

So, I thought I come back with probably the most successful meal I think I’ve ever done when I had company over.  And, that was a fondue dinner I did with my folks and my wife a while back.  The food was great and we all had a blast sitting around the fondue pot and enjoying one another’s company.

That night I didn’t go vegetarian.  We had seafood fondue, but shortly after that I tried a vegetarian version with my wife that was very good too.  (Not to mention we once again had an enjoyable time ;-))

The meal requires that you have a fondue pot.  It is also helpful if you have an insert for the fondue pot for the cheese and chocolate, so that you don’t have to clean your fondue pot between each course (perhaps like this one – luckily we had an insert from another set of pots that fit right into our electric fondue pot).

The fondue meal I’m going to suggest does have a good bit of dairy in it.  So, I’ll leave you to decide on that as it’s been a matter of discussion on this blog.  Otherwise, I think you’ll enjoy it.

[One of our favorite restaurants is a fondue restaurant called the Melting Pot.  You can find a significant number of their recipes scattered over the internet or in this cookbook.  Each of the recipes below are from the restaurant.]

First course

For the first course, I’d recommend starting with a spinach and artichoke cheese fondue.  The recipe can be found here.  Rather than waste space reproducing that, I’ll just give a couple of pointers.

The recipe calls for cheddar, but the current one that they are doing at the Melting Pot uses a mix of Fontina and Butterkäse cheeses.  I think this mixture probably works better, as we’ve had it at the restaurant.  However, I’ve not been able to find Butterkäse locally, so we’ve stuck with the cheddar, which is still very good.

In addition, for the dipping the recipe suggests cubed bread and raw vegetables.  I’d suggest that tortilla chips work well too, perhaps even better.

You’ll want to use an insert to cook the cheese at this stage if you have one, so that for the next course you can simply remove the insert and cook your broth in the large pot.

Second Course

The second course I did was the entree, but if you wanted to throw in a salad you could easily turn this into a four course meal.

For the entree, the first thing that you will want to do is get a broth going in the fondue pot. You can just turn the heat up to high and add the broth ingredients.  Or you can get the broth going on a stove top and then add it to the pot.  Our personal favorite by far is the mojo broth.  It is very citrusy and has a bit of a kick.  But, if you are looking for something a bit more savory you can try the coq au vin.  The coq au vin is also great because whatever wine you don’t cook with you can then drink ;-).

While you are getting the broth going, you can bring everyone a selection of items that they will use their fondue forks to cook in the broth.  For a vegetarian meal, I’d suggest giving everyone a selection of portabello mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and vegetable dumplings.  I used wonton wraps and stuffed them with shredded cabbage and carrots.  If you wanted to add a bit of meat you might want to add a bit of pork.

Once, the broth is going throw in some broccoli florets and small size potatoes (or larger ones cut up).  The longer you let these cook in the broth the better they will be.  (The broccoli is probably my favorite part of the meal because the tips of it soak up the broth so well).

While those vegetables are cooking everyone can begin sticking their main entree selections (i.e. mushrooms, artichokes and dumplings) with their fondue forks and cooking them in the broth.  They shouldn’t take too long to cook, but you may want to check the cook times and give everyone an idea of what to expect.

You will also want to make a dipping sauce ahead of time.  Since you are using vegetables, I would recommend a Green Goddess dipping sauce.  I used this recipe once, but I did it a second time substituting cream cheese for the sour cream.  It was much better the second go round.  You can let everyone dip out the sauce on to their own plates.

One good thing, since you are using vegetables, those who are dining can eat from the same plate that you served them with their selection of vegetables.  When using meat for the fondue you’d have to use separate plate.

Don’t forget to enjoy your conversation while everyone is cooking their vegetables.  And, maybe even share some of the wine you used for your coq au vin 😉

Third Course

The third course was the most simple.  I just threw some fondue chocolate into the insert (which my wonderful wife cleaned while I was getting the broth ready for the second course) that we place into the fondue pot.  I served out strawberries and bananas for everyone to dip in the chocolate.  Though this was the easiest, it is probably everyone’s favorite part of the meal.  Once you melt the chocolate you can cut off the heat and let everyone use their hands to dip the strawberries and bananas if you’re okay with that.  Otherwise, you may need to clean some of the fondue forks.

I’m sure I may have left out some details in such a long post.  Feel free to shoot out your questions or suggestions in the comments section below.

In my opinion, fondue isn’t all that hard to do.  You could even take the cheese or chocolate fondue recipes and add them to a course for any meal that you are cooking for friends, even if you do something else for the entree.  The upshot is a lot of fun and some really good food.  The down side is the clean up afterwards.  🙁  But, it’s worth it if you’ve got good friends and family coming over.

Frying onions (tip learned late)

These fried onions would be nice as a garnish to steak, but have been cooked to fast to really caramelise, the aim is no burnt bits, but a mellow yellow all through (photo by Laurel Fan)

Writing up the African bean recipe below reminded me how late in life I learned to fry onions. I apologise to everyone whose mother or school taught them this, mine didn’t 🙁 So I read about “frying onions” and assumed that “fry” means hot oil, usually within reason the hotter the better. Result, charred but uncooked onions.

Onions are not usually “fried” whatever we say 1The exception is the deep fried crispy onion and garlic that adds crunch and a flavour explosion to some Asian dishes, they are cooked fast to remove the water, but this is a different process and uses lots of oil. , they are should be slowly simmered with an oil lubricant to stop them sticking to the pan, the trick is to use a low heat and a long time (stirring now and then as you walk through the kitchen) then they’ll caramelise beautifully, adding depth and richness to the flavour as well as softening the onions 🙂

Notes   [ + ]

1. The exception is the deep fried crispy onion and garlic that adds crunch and a flavour explosion to some Asian dishes, they are cooked fast to remove the water, but this is a different process and uses lots of oil.

African Black Eyed Beans

African Black Eyed Beans (no the beans aren't from Africa, just the recipe 😉

Last night I tried Lois’ African Black Eyed Beans. 1I did not mean to do two of Lois’ recipes in a row, but that’s what I had in the storecupboard 🙂 Barbara was just back from Tauranga and I had them ready with rice, Barbara did not know it was a competition recipe but said the beans were delicious without prompting 🙂 I adapted the recipe for Repentant Carnivores (rather than Vegans) by cutting the fat, especially the bad fat in the coconut cream, halving this works fine and still tastes deliciously different.

  • 1½ cups black-eyed beans. Start these cooking for 30 – 45 minutes.

Make the sauce with:

  • 2 chopped onions Sautéd in a little oil until they’re softish.
  • 1 small can tomato paste (or chopped tomatoes but then you will need to “reduce” 2That is boil to remove some of the water. the sauce a bit).
  • ½ can coconut cream
  • 2 tsp paprika 3I used smoked, it adds a nice depth to the warmth – as I also used less chili.
  • ½ tsp (or more or less) chili powder
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Stir together till combined, if necessary reduce to thicken, but if you keep the beans warm in the sauce before serving it will thicken up a bit then.

When the beans are cooked, drain and mix the sauce into them.

Serve with rice. This is would serves 4 as a main meal. 4Lois or Alison reckoned 4-6 but the 6 would all need small appetites or to eat desert as well 😉

Lois gave credit to Alison Holst, the beans taste interesting and different as most Westerners are not used to the coconut and bean combination, which worked very well. Once again the recipe risks looking plain, I think (in the Capsicum season at least) some thin Jullienne strips of green Capsicum might lift it… I am sure this dish, especially if it was enhanced by some appropriate (or better still inappropriate) story about the African origin of the recipe, would go down a treat with most children – though definitely reduce the chili (like I did) in that case.

Like the previous two entries I’ve tested this is likely to stay on my regular list, so far it is going to be hard to choose who gets the prize 😉

Notes   [ + ]

1. I did not mean to do two of Lois’ recipes in a row, but that’s what I had in the storecupboard 🙂
2. That is boil to remove some of the water.
3. I used smoked, it adds a nice depth to the warmth – as I also used less chili.
4. Lois or Alison reckoned 4-6 but the 6 would all need small appetites or to eat desert as well 😉

Mushroom and Barley

Lois' Mushroom Barley Mix - all packed for lunch

After a fortnight of a cold that left me with no enthusiasm for recipe testing 🙂 I have again begun to trial the Great Vegan Recipe Competition entries.

Yesterday I tried Lois’ Mushroom and Barley Mix, and brought the “left overs” in a box for lunch. The recipe is extremely easy, and seems forgiving – I left it simmering with no stirring for an hour and it was still fine!

  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 3-4 cups vege stock or water
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 5-6 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Harissa (or in Lois’ original chilli – I like less chilli and more spices that most Kiwis)

Sauté onion, carrot, garlic and spices. Add barley, mushrooms, soy sauce and stock. (I’d now keep half the mushrooms to add later with the chickpeas – if you are using soaked, dried but uncooked chickpeas add them now.)

Leave to simmer happily for about 3/4 hour, until the barley is soft but chewy. Check occasionally to ensure there’s sufficient liquid. I found with precooked chick peas that 3 cups was plenty, but if cooking the chick peas then I expect the extra cup is needed. Add the sundried tomatoes (or other veges like Lois’ capsicum [too expensive at this time of year]) for colour before serving.

This is savoury, convenient one pot, and one serving. It works well to warm up next day for lunch. I would also add some chopped fresh herbs at the end to add more colour as garnish and to add a little zing to the flavours which are otherwise savoury but almost bland. (It was the same reasoning, as well as what was in the fridge, that led me to use sundried tomatoes.)

Falafel Fail

Last night I had my family over for dinner and I decided to do a vegetarian style Greek dinner.  The menu was falafel sandwich with hummus and salad.  I used this recipe for a greek yogurt dressing for the salad, which I thought was very good.  The hint of fresh mint was a very nice touch.  For the hummus I used my usual recipe which I think is fairly standard and is usually a hit.  But, when it came to the falafel sandwiches, they were …. well, just okay.  And okay is fine, but usually when I invite people, especially family, over for dinner I hope for better.

For one, I baked the falafel not wanting to deal with the mess of frying.  I suppose that may have been the bigger of my mistakes.  But, I used this recipe and just found it to be a bit lacking.  In addition, I pulled another recipe for the tahini sauce and it was simply too overpowering.  It was very thick unlike the tahini sauce I am accustomed to seeing in my local Greek restaurant.  I was almost wondering what would have happened had I inverted the quantities of tahini and lemon juice.

At any rate, everyone ate their meal with no complaints and said that everything was good.  But, I know it could have been better.   So, my questions for you … has anyone got a good falafel recipe?  I love falafel and definitely want to try again.  Also, do I have to fry it to get the real deal at home?  What about a good tahini sauce?

Baked Potatoes

You can usually avoid this by stabbing the potato viciously with a thin blade before cooking (Photo by Robert S. Donovan)

Lifehacker prompted this post, they linked to a page of Kitchen Myths. Most of the list was pretty boring, stuff I either knew (that microwaving does not cause food to become radioactive 😉 or was not really interested in (like whether “real chili” could contain beans) there was one I’d qualify. The author says:

The microwave oven certainly has many legitimate uses, but baking potatoes (or anything else) is not one of them. Sure, you can cook a whole potato in the microwave, but what you get is a steamed potato. The crispy skin and fluffy interior of the genuine baked potato require a long cooking in dry heat.

This is true, but misses the point. What you do is almost cook the potatoes in the microwave, then oil and salt the skins and finish them off in the oven. A saving in fuel as the oven is on much less long and time.

Baked potatoes taste great, loved by most children and are a great opportunity for creative stretching. Think baked potato with olive oil or peanut oil and a little tomato and bacon, for example.

But what suggestions do you have for fully vegan fillings?

Green lentils and sausage

Cooked green lentils (photo by Maggie Hoffman) when you add the oil they'll glisten scrunptiously, the sausage is icing on the cake 😉

This recipe is NOT Vegan, except Vegans can easily adapt it by removing the sausage and adding a little more oil and salt.This is simpler than the public as imagined by a politician, and tastier than even you could imagine (just use plenty of good oil and real ground or flaky salt added just before eating)

  • Green lentils 1/2 cup per person (boiled gently till just soft)
  • Splash or three of nice olive oil
  • Several grinds of sea salt
  • a little thinly sliced sausage (Chorizo is good, but I prefer the thin ones that taste a bit like salami)

Serve with mashed potatoes.

For myself I often leave the sausage out, but it used to help tame the family carnivores 😉 and does add a nice contrast.

Stretching and bending

Pasta Sauce by Tim Patterson

I’ve had a stinking cold for the last week, so I haven’t been making progress with the competition recipes (another chance to persuade your cousin Jo[e] to add their best effort) today I am hoping I’m feeling better, so to encourage that hope I was going to look at which recipe to try next. I got waylaid, by my post Two lessons in meat avoidance, that set me thinking about ways to reduce the meat (dairy or egg) component in “regular” meals, as a contribution to the overall goal of a more modest lifestyle.Here is a first list of tips:

  • use a little cheese to add meatiness to a vege dish (like the Parmesan in my roast veges)
  • add beans to the meat in a stew or casserole, in winter we love slow cooker casseroles, they cook beans brilliantly as well as meat – when an RC is cooking for the un-repentant sort use less meat and replace half with beans or lentils
  • make up the pasta sauce with lentils instead of, or more sneakily with (as above, maybe 1/2 and 1/2) mince
  • use a strong tasting savoury meat in small quantities – bacon (I know bacon in piles makes any food except icecream better) even a little will make a hot or cold salad taste meaty

I’m sure several of you have good ideas or examples too, so please chip in…. It is (after all) all about sharing 🙂

Carrot and Cashew Soup

Nearly Vegan Carrot and Cashew Soup

Heather’s competition recipe (from Alison Holst)

  • 500g carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • Oil
  • 1 Tbsp Curry powder and some cumin seeds
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup toasted cashews

Chop onions and begin to cook in the saucepan with the oil (soften rather than caramelise them), add curry powder and cumin. Then chop and add carrots, add the stock and simmer till the carrots are tender. In a blender process the toasted cashews to the consistency of ground almonds (can be toasted under a grill with 1/2tsp oil). [Or if you are Tim just add them before the final few wizzes in the food processor.] Drain cooked carrots and onion and put into blender with ground nuts. Process adding stock as required to get the desired consistency.[Again I just slopped the lot into the food processor, and added the nuts – see above – just before finishing, to keep a bit of crunch.]

Taste & adjust seasoning. Reheat to serve.

Experience (the Voice of): Tasty, filling and robust! Yum, this will certainly be added to the staple soups for something quick, easy, tasty and filling for when we have a crowd for lunch. I’m going to experiment a bit more, next time the Cumin will definitely be ground not seeds (they went all fibrous when processed 🙁 and I’ll reduce the curry powder a bit further and add Coriander leaves as garnish instead of the Yogurt in the photo making it really Vegan again 🙂

BTW: If you try a competition recipe and like it please either say so in the comments on this blog post, or click the “Like on Facebook” button, that way I can factor your preferences into the result. Voting more than once will only count as one, even for your own entry 😉

Mixed grain and seed bread

Bread of both kinds, though the "flatbreads" rose so much this time they are almost mini-loaves 😉

Several of the competition recipes need bread to accompany the main dish, and even more fine bean and lentil recipes do, so here’s what I usually do for a tasty fairly quick bread.

Put into the breadmaker (in roughly this order):

  • a cup or two of warm water (if you are not Vegan you will get softer bread adding an egg to the water or substituting milk for the water)
  • a Tbsp of dried yeast (the fancy mixes work even better)
  • a Tbsp of sugar
  • 1-2 cups of wholemeal flour
  • 1-2 cups of plain (strong = breadmaking = hi-grade) flour
  • some (1/4-1/2 cup?) flax seed (Linseed) to add fibre, and vitamins and minerals, and above all taste
  • 1/4 cup gluten flour
  • tsp salt

Start the breadmaker on the dough setting, unless you are more practiced than I you will need to adjust the flour and water till the dough seems roughly right (not stickly and sloppy, but not too hard and crumbly either).

Meanwhile put in a covered dish:

  • 1 cup mixed kibbled grain – today I am using kibbled wheat and rye flakes (Isn’t “kibbled” a nice olde worlde word? But I could not get kibbled rye at the supermarket and was not near the bin-inn…)
  • 1 cup boiling water

When the dough is risen switch off at the mains, add the soaked kibbled grains, and switch on again. For really solid and tasty add 1/2 cup seeds (pumpkin, sunflower…). At this stage you may need to add more flour, it depends how dry your soaked grains are…

When kneaded either:

  • make flatbread – just pull off tennis ball (or a bit smaller) lumps and roll or pat into a flat “loaf”. Leave to rise and then either bake (200C), grill or BBQ sloshing oil and sprinkling with salt makes them even nicer 🙂
  • make country focaccia, roll into French Stick like sausages. Leave to rise and spread. Bake (200C) till then give a nice solid tump when you tap them.

“Leave to rise” depends on the heat, phases of the moon, how much of a hurry you are in (bread dough before it is ready to cook can sense hungry children and rises more slowly in their presence) but an hour in the airing cupboard or in the oven on  50C is often enough. It should at least double in size.

NB: brushing the top with oil, or milk, or egg, or even water really helps the crust, sprinkling with salt and seeds adds interest too. You can also add herbs, rosemary is great, but add them late in the final mix even after the kibbled grains.