Spicy Mexican bean and rice bake (6 servings)

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Beans, rice, and cheese are the ultimate vegetarian combination, in my humble opinion. There are sooo many ways to combine them, from burritos to burgers to casseroles, and you can add a wide variety of ingredients to change the main flavor of the dish (herbs, sauces, veggies, etc.). Plus, it's a cheap combination, too! A couple weeks ago, I tried Faith Durand's spicy Mexican bean and rice bake from

Not Your Mother's Casseroles and was super impressed with the results. The casserole is a colorful (it looked awesome in my Grandma's vintage Pyrex dish), filling, protein-packed supper that makes great leftovers the next day.

You will need:

  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups cooked white or brown rice (I used white this time)
  • 15-oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 15-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar
  • 1 cup sour cream (low-fat or regular)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ground black pepper

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a baking 9x13-inch baking dish (or any 12-cup or 3-quart equivalent) with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat; add the onion and green pepper. Cook and stir for 10 minutes, or until the onion and pepper are soft. Add the garlic; cook and stir for an additional 5 minutes.
  3. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic to a large bowl. Mix in the rice, beans, and tomatoes. Stir in the cilantro and 1 1/2 cups of the cheddar.
  4. Mix the sour cream, eggs, chipotle powder, cumin, salt, and pepper in a different bowl. Stir this mixture into the beans mixture and then spread everything out in the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top. Bake uncovered for one hour, or until it's hot and bubbly.

Gotta love it! The leftovers even freeze well!

Veganized baked oatmeal (6 servings)

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Every once in a while, it's nice to make breakfast a treat instead of just a utility. It's worth a few extra steps to make it something special, especially when guests are involved. This past weekend, two of our friends from Baltimore stayed overnight, and on Saturday morning, I made baked oatmeal from Faith Durand's Not Your Mother's Casseroles. This is an easy-to-prepare, comforting breakfast that can be changed and tweaked to suit individual preferences.

You will need:

  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups soy or almond milk (you might want to decrease the sugar if you use a sweetened variety)
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I used cranberries and raisins)
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped nuts (I used sliced almonds)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla, maple, or almond extract (opt.)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 1 1/2-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber mixer. Pour mixture into the baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  3. Serve the oatmeal hot with maple syrup, extra brown sugar, and/or extra milk, if desired.

Oh my goodness, this was so good. It reminded me of various oatmeal concoctions I've had back home in Lancaster County, only it was less sweet. And it smells so delicious as it's baking! It's a convenient recipe to make for guests, as you can mix everything up in one bowl, stick it in the oven, and then spend time chatting, making coffee, or doing dishes until it's ready. It also heats up well in the microwave the next day, if you happen to have leftovers!

Creamy spring vegetable gratin (3-4 servings)

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Last weekend, I had a first: A loyal reader gave me a gift! Okay, so the reader was my aunt, but it still counts! During a lovely visit to Chapel Hill with my mother last weekend, she gave me a copy of Not Your Mother's Casseroles, which I had mentioned wanting to read in an earlier post.

The book is fabulous. Not all of the recipes are vegetarian, but a large percentage of them are, and most of those that contain meat could be made meatless. The book contains everything from breakfast recipes and appetizers to main dishes and sides, and I definitely recommend you get yourself a copy if you have a chance.

For my first experiment with the book, I decided to try out Durand's Creamy Spring Vegetable Gratin with Grana Padano. After consulting the Cook's Thesaurus (a great resource for ingredient substitutions) I learned that Grana Padano is a hard grating cheese that's very similar to Parmesan, only it's not made in Parma. The site suggested Parmesan as a substitute, as well as nutritional yeast. Having never cooked with nutritional yeast, I decided to give it a try, especially because (along with swapping out regular sour cream for the non-dairy kind) it could make the recipe vegan. Vegan casseroles are difficult to find, so I decided to give it a shot, and I was more than happy with the results.

I get annoyed by recipes that describe some of the preparation in the ingredient list and the rest of it in the directions. Why not just put it all in one place? You'll see below that I did!

You will need:

  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced less than 1/4" thin (watch a tutorial here)
  • 1 large leek, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed, and cut into 1" pieces (watch a tutorial here)
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and sliced as thinly as the fennel
  • 1 small onion, sliced into half-moons as thinly as the potato and fennel
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (vegan or regular)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (or grated Parmesan or Grana Padano)
  • splash of white wine (optional but recommended)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spray a 2 1/2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Place all the sliced vegetables and the garlic in a large bowl and toss to combine.
  3. Add the sour cream, salt, nutmeg, pepper, and half the nutritional yeast (and wine, if using) in a smaller bowl; stir to combine. Pour the sour cream mixture over the vegetable mixture and toss to coat.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish and sprinkle with the remaining nutritional yeast. Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid or foil and bake for another 30 minutes to allow the top to brown and crisp up. Serve immediately.

Durand's version doesn't mention mixing up the sour cream, etc. in a separate bowl, but I added that step because my mixture got a little clumpy. The back of our freezer is super cold, and the sour cream didn't spread too well because of where it had been sitting. I'll definitely take that extra step next time.

Bryan and I really enjoyed eating this. I served it as a main dish, along with some bread, just because we weren't terribly hungry after a mid-day feast at Med Deli earlier today. I think this would make a wonderful side dish, especially at a potluck or a holiday party. It's creamy and satisfying without being too heavy or rich. The vegetables were cooked just enough to be tender, and the top crust was crunchy and a little charred. I was half-expecting my old lady stomach to protest over the onions, but an hour after eating, I'm still doing fine! This was my first time cooking with fennel, and I'm happy with the turnout. This recipe produces a lovely tangle of vegetables that work well together without any one of them stealing the show. I can't wait to try other recipes from this book! Thanks, Aunt Jenny!

Chickpea casserole with lemon, herbs, and shallots (6-8 servings)

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As I was planning out this week's meals, I realized that a huge percentage of my main dish recipes involve chickpeas. I've already posted 13 recipes involving chickpeas, and I have lots more than I haven't yet posted. Chickpeas are so versatile and they pack a great protein punch. So when I saw this recipe on the Kitchn the other week, I knew I had to try it out.  This recipe comes from Faith Durand's Not Your Mother's Casseroles, which I'd love to read sometime. I changed the temperature and baked the casserole covered for part of the time, going off readers' suggestions. I also added more rice for bulk and some broth for moisture.

You will need:

  • 3 15-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 4 shallots, minced or grated (or ground up in a food processor - yay!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (food processor again)
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (small curd if you can find it)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used Greek)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 2 stalks rosemary, leaves stripped and minced
  • 2/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • extra-virgin olive oil (opt.)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spritz a 3-quart baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Add the chickpeas, rice, shallots, garlic, and lemon zest and juice to a large bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, broth, and half the parmesan. Mix in the parsley and rosemary. Add the egg mixture to the chickpea mixture in the large bowl and stir to combine.
  4. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining parmesan and the bread crumbs. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil, if desired. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes; uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes. The casserole should be bubbly and golden. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

There are so many wonderful things about this recipe. As the Kitchn's writer states, "It's quick and easy -- a modern, lightened-up version of the 'dump-and-mix' dish, where you can open up a few cans and mix everything together." But, as the writer points out, it doesn't rely on predictable ingredients like pasta or cream of mushroom soup. I loved the combination of the tender chickpeas and the custardy, creamy filling. The lemon worked really well with the other flavors. This is another bright, flavorful dish that works well for the transition from winter to spring. Serve it with a big ol' spinach salad and you'll be full for hours!

A word about shallots: I don't know much about them and they tend to annoy me. I love their mellow, slightly sweet flavor, but they frustrate me. First of all, peeling them is a pain in the arse. They're much worse than garlic or onions. Also, when the recipe calls for four of them, I don't know if that means four "bulbs," which might contain more than one "clove" (for lack of a better description) or if that means four "cloves," which could only be two or three "bulbs." Ugh. I found two big ones -- almost the size of a tangerine -- at Whole Foods and used both. The end result wasn't overpowering, so I guess that was a good choice!