Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Roasted Chickpeas Two Ways: Chai Some Chickpeas and Hummus Deconstruced

Here's something to add some fun to your life!  Or your salad, party, what-have-you.
Did you know you can roast chickpeas?!  Oh you most certainly can and should.  Even if you think you don't like them.  This magical recipe turns slop from a can into chic (or should I say chick...) snack, topping or bar munch.  This recipe was inspired by my trusty Peas and Thank You cookbook I told you about a while back.  I would double this recipe if I were you.  Just sayin.'

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chickpeas
Juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons or limes (I used limes because I didn't have lemons.  It was legit.)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 can rinsed and drained chickpeas
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.  Combine all ingredients and marinate for at least an hour, or a couple if you have time.  Spread chickpeas evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure they get nice and evenly crispy and brown.  These taste like hummus deconstructed, if you can imagine.

Want some dessert?  Try this next recipe over a salad with dried cranberries and pecans with a nice sweet vinaigrette or a splash of good aged balsamic vinegar.  Or eat them right off the cookie sheet.

Chai Some Chickpeas
1 can chickpeas, rinsed, drained and patted dry
1.5 tsp garam masala
1 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
Light brown sugar (optional)

Combine all ingredients.  Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 25 minutes, stirring frequently.  Keep your eye on these even closer.  They tend to need more stirring to prevent burning since they have a higher sugar content.  Sprinkle a little brown sugar on these when they are hot out of the oven for a more indulgent treat.

Important storage tip: Make sure these have cooled completely before storing in an airtight container.  Otherwise, they will become a little chewy and odd.  I know this from experience, and so does everyone else who ate them at Thanksgiving.

Speaking of giving thanks, I am pretty thankful for this scoundrel.  What are thankful for this year?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Healthy Addiction? Garlicky Kale to Your Post-Thanksgiving Rescue

I'm not one of those people you're going to find saying, "oh, I'm SOOO addicted to exercise".  That doesn't mean I can't dream about it.  You're far more likely to find me eating some combination of bread and stuff that melts and saying "oh, I'm SOOO addicted to (insert bread and fat of the day)".  But in the past several months I've had a breakthrough.  I developed a healthy addiction!  It's kale.

Wait!  Don't leave!  Once I too was like you, thinking that kale, in all its ultra deep green roughness, could only be consumed comfortably after it had the Satan cooked out of it and had been covered in some sort of high sodium or high fat sauce to mask its overly healthy and virtuous taste.  And then, as it is known to do, Whole Foods (better known to some as Whole Paycheck) came to the rescue with its salad bar brimming with vegetables and toppings galore.  Of all the delectable delicacies in the salad bar, the garlicky kale was the crown jewel.  And then I was so cruelly betrayed.  I would sneak away to Whole Foods for lunch to have a rendezvous with G.K., and it was nowhere to be found.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, and I'm making garlicky kale from scratch.

Lucky for me, Brittany over at Eating Bird Food had the same addiction and did most of the leg work.  I doubled her recipe and doubled my pleasure.  The awesome thing about this salad aside from its delicious and addictive properties, is that it's even better the next day.  Definitely the only dressed salad I know of that can hold its own in the fridge a second day.  If you like Caesar salad, you're going to love this.

Garlicky Kale
(Recipe slightly adapted from Eating Bird Food)

1 bunch kale
1 1/2 Tbsp tahini
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos (sounds weird but it's like soy sauce or tamari.  Sub tamari in a pinch)
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (an ingredient definitely worth stocking in your kitchen)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Sesame seeds to taste for garnish (optional)

1.  Remove tough stems from the kale and tear into bite size pieces.
2.  Combine all the remaining ingredients except kale and sesame seeds in a blender (magic bullet is awesome for this) until smooth.  Pour over kale.
3.  Use your clean hands (sorry, this is going to be your best way to do this) to evenly distribute the dressing and rub it into the leaves, like you're giving it a well deserved massage.  Relax, kale, you're feeling a little stiff.
4.  Wash your grubby hands, weirdo, and shake some sesame seeds on your delectable health food before you start shoveling it in your pie hole like it was bread with melty fat.  If you can manage to wait to eat and let this sit in the fridge for an hour or two, you'll love it even more.  If not, strap on the ol' feedbag.

I like to make a meal of this when I know I'm eating pizza (bread and melty fat) for dinner later that day.  It's all about balance, or so they say.

This is great for impressing friends that think they don't like healthy food.  You sneaky devil.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Part 3 - MasterChef Casting Calls Wrap Up

The judges came back in the room after their deliberations.
"We are going to call three names.  If we call your name, that doesn't mean you made it.  If we don't call your name, that doesn't mean you didn't make it.  That sounds like a line, doesn't it?  But it's really not.  In each city, for each season, we go back through applications and notes and make phone calls, so please don't discount yourself.  With that said, please hang around if your name is..."

1.  ZZ Top look-alike that played harmonica and sang like he was at American Idol tryouts
2.  Jim Schmim
3.  Not Melody Ann

I shook hands with the roofer and lawyer that were on either side of me, we tasted each other's dishes, and I left with a huge grin on my face.  Because I did the best I could do, got awesome feedback, stepped out of the box and did something outside my comfort zone, and had an amazing experience.

Time to go grab a beer and finally exhale.  We walked down to River Street and headed for Vic's on the River for lunch.

For lunch, I had a Caesar salad that was so amazing I stuffed it in my gob before I could photograph it.  Amazing lemony white anchovies, biscuit croutons and parmesan crisps that when combined created a whole so much greater than its parts, and an excellent and refreshing foil to the rich and wonderful french onion soup.  Washed down with a Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, and I'm a happy girl.   We capped it off with a trip to River Street Sweets and munched on some pralines on the waterfront.  Nap time.  I had to rest up (no sleep, remember)  before we headed out to dinner and our ghost tour.  I'd like to go ahead and give Lori her due credit for coming up with this idea.  I'd also like to point out I am a huge wimp and have no idea why I agreed to do such a thing as a ghost tour in the world's most haunted city.  But at this point, with a belly full of good food and tryouts under my belt, I laid in bed still blissfully unaware of what awful things awaited me.

The alarm goes off, we all get dressed for our fanciest dinner of the night and head out haphazardly without reservation or reservations.

Our destination of choice would have been The Olde Pink House, but there were no reservations available, and the wait likely would have been hours.  We walked past a beautiful restaurant with amazing smells and charm oozing out everywhere.  Let's eat here!  It's the Olde Pink House, duh.  We went in anyway to ask about wait times.  A handsome man held the door for us, walked up to the host and cancelled his reservation, exclaiming that instead he would like to offer his place "to these lovely ladies."  And that's how we were immediately seated at the best seat in the house.  The Pink House, to be exact.  I didn't get pictures here, because it was just inappropriate, ya know.  It was one of those perfect moments that a picture couldn't sum up when we started in on our cornbread fried oyster appetizer with a fresh basil aioli.  A large group was seated at the table next to us as we ordered our entrees.  I of course had to go with Duck Confit with Vegetable Crepes which was amazeballs.

"That girl at the table next to us looks like Eva Mendez," Lori said.  I looked over, amused, and slowly my amusement turned to panic.  And I'm sweating.  It couldn't be.  There in all their LA-stained glory were all the producers, judges and food critics from this morning.  We ordered a bottle of wine, and I freaked out as Lori and Ashley planned intricate schemes to get their attention.  Their themes varied, but their plans generally stuck to reliable tactics like forced tripping, yelling obvious questions in their general direction, and other reasonable methods.  We were almost late for our ghost tour, so we asked for some to-go cups for our bottle of wine (remember that crazy open container law) and started to head out.  I walked by their table, told them I enjoyed cooking for them today, and hoped they enjoyed the rest of their stay in Savannah.  They were over the top nice, and when Lori kept motioning and mouthing, "call her," behind my head, the sweet Latin American Studies major asked again for my name.  They remembered my dish and again said they enjoyed it, and I walked out completely elated.  Now if they'd just give me that call to come to LA...  :)

At this point, we were legitimately late for our ghost tour, and were sprinting down the streets, wine bottle in hand, looking for our meetup point.  We found our party and were congratulated for our open-container-savvy ways.  First stop was a graveyard.  I was totally not scared at this point.  Our guide, Tobias, told us to be sure to take pictures, and don't delete them until we get a good look on our computers.  Silly ghost tour, man.  It turns out Tobias not only owned this company, but he is actively involved in research with such reputable paranormal researchers as The Rhine Institute.  We went to the hospital where mental patients and yellow fever patients were treated and buried in mass unmarked graves.  Many were buried alive due to the coma-like state that was characteristic of yellow fever.  I started feeling pretty bad right about here.  Lori, Ashley and I were debating leaving the tour.  It was getting to be a bit much.

The worst was yet to come.  We headed to the slave trade square, where families were separated and humans were sold like household appliances.  The air was cold and thick here, and tragedy and fear were tangible.  Without going into too much detail, there was bad energy here, and we were ready to move on.  The tour reached a terrifying finale when at the last uninhabited house, we were given the awful and heartbreaking story of what had happened in this place. As the worst details were divulged, the lights in the top floor suddenly went out.  They keep lights on in the house to discourage vandalism and curious ghost hunters.  Downstairs lights remained on, and everyone seemed to be ready to head back to more populated areas.  Timers, maybe?  It was 11:56; maybe they were set for that random time, or maybe the timers were fast...  Whatever, it was time to go.  What had been Savannah's charming landscape of beautiful old trees and Spanish moss was now more terrifying than it was beautiful, even in the daylight of the next morning.  We all three slept in the same bed that night with no sleep.  Notice a trend here?  Good thing we hadn't loaded the pictures on Ashley's computer yet.  (Every single picture is full of these large, mysterious orbs.  No biggie.)   Lesson here- don't go searching for darkness.  You will surely find it.  I regret the tour, and will certainly not be going out looking for ghosts again.

The next morning, we decided to grab some brunch before heading home.  We also decided a sack of 24 Krystal Burgers would be a fitting appetizer.  We were clearly thinking rationally.  Breakfast on the beach sounded perfect, so we headed for Tybee Island.  We picked Fannie's on the Beach, which offered amazing brunch with these views.

Ashley ordered some mighty tasty fish tacos, and Lori and I ordered the Holy Grail of Eggs Benedict:  Two grit cakes topped with two poached eggs and hollandaise, swimming in a pool of pan fried garlic shrimp and butter.  Exhibit A.

It came with a toasted English muffin and a gorgeous variety of fresh fruit.  Seriously?!  Oh, yeah.  After a stroll on the beach, we headed back to North Carolina three very happy girls.

So I still haven't heard anything, but trying out for MasterChef was one of the best experiences of my life.  It made me more confident in my cooking skills and more ready than ever to pursue my passions.  I can't believe the overwhelming amount of support I received from family, friends and strangers.   So Thank you! I can't wait to try out again!  Until then, this redhead is staying in the kitchen, and telling you all about it.

It's hard to sum up the whole experience in these three blog posts, so if I've left anything out, or if you have any questions about any of it, you know where to find me!  Cheers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Part Two- Behind the Scenes at MasterChef auditions

After pulling into the parking lot at Savannah Tech Community College, I stalled a little, assessing the sitch.  Not as many cars as I expected.  Lots of people toting some really extra large coolers and heavy loads.  I had my little satchel, lunchbox cooler and thermos.  Hmmm.  We walked through the double doors and my trusty companions grabbed us a table and chairs while I waited in line and registered.  I was contestant number 120, and I handed over my registration packet complete with hot sauce splotches.  The lady issuing numbers kept interrupting herself as she instructed me and said, "what?"  Like I had interrupted her while I stood there silent.  It was strange, and she was strange.  But probably an awesome person in real life when she wasn't processing registration packets.

We took our seats and watched ALL sorts of people file in and settle into line.

Oooh!  Here's Beefcake.  He was destined to be our bestie for the coming hour or two.  He made lasagna with homemade noodles and bechamel sauce and was really nervous.  And beefy.  I hope he made callbacks, but have no idea.

Look!  Here we are waiting.  Ash on the left, me on the right and the sweet, but ghostly, face of pallor right smack in the middle.  Poor old girl was feeling like a squashed beetle.

Check out this dude.  Yeah, that dude way in the back of this fuzzy picture standing behind his table and being a total cheater.  Although the rules very specifically state you can not bring any heating devices and your dish should be cooked ahead of time, he prepared what I think was chicken marsala on two gas stoves in the middle of the room in front of a very hungry, anxious crowd full of nerves and critical stares. He made sure plenty were watching when he cracked his eggs with one hand and loudly chopped his herbs.  Don't be that guy.

An hour into the wait, my number was called.  I filed in line with my group of 19 others and we were led into the room of uncertainty as our peers clapped, hooted and hollered.  It was a fun feeling, like starting a big race.  As we entered the room with the judges, we were given a space on some tables that were arranged in a horseshoe.  I'd say it was approximately 2 feet square.  "Put your stuff down and move over," said the really hot and skinny LA cool girl being the boss of us.  "Get all your stuff out, but don't open or start plating anything."  Well that's nice, it makes it easier.  

"Ready?  Have everything plated in three minutes when I say go.  After I say stop, get your hands off the table and don't touch ANYTHING.  If you touch your paperwork after I say stop, you'll be disqualified.  It's my property now, so make sure it's on the table.  Three... two... one...  GO."

Hands shaking, I ripped a banana leaf in half, marveling how blessed I was that it made a clean and beautiful tear, laid it across my rectangular platter, and tore three beautiful leaves off my hydroponically grown lettuce.  One, two, three lettuce cups in a row.  Thermos of meat opened, I clumsily forked out a couple tablespoons on each leaf.  I opened my pickled onions, filling the room with the very distinct smell, and I felt like vinegar was everywhere.  A few onions on top so my pork is pretty in pink.  20 seconds left.  Mango salsa on top of each, no time for cilantro, wipe the plate, "STOP."

A cool looking hipster girl came by my table.  "Oh those are so cute!  I'm not a judge, but I really want one.  They're so pretty!  Can I have one?  What are they?  Oooh, how do you know how to cook Mayan?  Awesome!  I'm a Latin American Studies major too!  Well thanks!"  She walked away and whispered something to the producer.  Here comes the food critic:
"This is cochinita pibil?  I'm from LA, so I eat a lot of authentic Mexican food."  He takes a bite.  No expression.  He looks at me.  "And this is very good.  So tender."  Another bite.  "And this mango salsa, what are the peppers?  Ah, habanero.  No wonder the heat is starting to get to me."  He is sweating through his shirt, but that happened before he got to my table.  Uh oh.  Was it too hot!  No way!  I tasted it this morning and it was barely spicy.  He must be a wimp, but at least he was a nice one.  Eek!  Wonder what he's saying to the other staff over there.  Here comes the guy asking about our TV personalities and our dish of choice.  He asks a lot about my personal history, personality, cooking style, strengths and weaknesses.  Tough questions, but he's a heck of a nice guy, this Duffy fellow.  "Oh this is the mango habanero salsa everyone is talking about."  Oh no.  "Yeah, I was afraid it might be a little hot..." I said.  
"Oh, no they loved it.  They were all back there talking about how good it was."  Compliment number three.  Is this happening?!  Could I really make it on the show, or even just to callbacks?!"  I'm getting really excited now.  The judges go through the last couple of people.  One person with a ZZ Top beard sings and plays harmonica, and the judges eat it up.  Another 55 year old man has pink hair, the girl two over from me is wearing a see-through shirt.  Maybe I should have worn my eye patch?  The judges wrap it up and leave us in the room as we deliberate.  I make friends with the lawyer and roofer next to me.  You wouldn't believe the crazy array of folks here.  The plated dishes are mostly beautiful, but some people have some Nutso sounding dishes.  I'm feeling pretty good.  The judges come back in with the results.

Stay tuned to the third and final installment!!  Haha, I always hate it when TV shows do that to me, so I get this sick pleasure out of doing it to you.  But seriously, my fingers are tired of typing, so stay tuned.

MasterChef Casting Call Part 1

So for those of you who have been following my MasterChef casting call audition, here's how it went!  I have to preface it by saying that it was an awesome experience, and it meant the world to me to have so much support from family, friends and readers.  I was truly overwhelmed with gratitude, so a sincere thank you goes out to every single person reading this!

It began on Friday morning by hacking up a ridiculous sized piece of meat, pouring the marinade I made the night before over the hacked pieces resting in my beloved dutch oven, and packing it in the cooler along with all my ingredients for the mango salsa, pickled onions, banana leaves, and the rest of the marinade.  I wasn't sure how well equipped the kitchen in our hotel room would be, so I was careful to pack plenty of knives, containers, etc.  My sister arrived and joined Ashley and me for the car ride down.

We arrived at the hotel, which was about 20 minutes away from downtown, but very clean, pleasant and well equipped.
My cozy little hotel kitchen
We settled in, I made my salsa and pickled onions, and we got ready for dinner.  We drove downtown and decided to try out Moon River Brewery and ordered some amazing beers with dinner.  I had the Rosemary IPA (India Pale Ale), and it was incredible.  I love IPAs in general, but the very subtle rosemary in this one played so well off the citrus character of the hops and added a festive Christmas tree feel to it too!  Ashley ordered a beer that was better than a dessert.  Her Sweet Potato Ale was not sweet or spiced, but was a perfectly refreshing and full bodied ale.  The rim was dusted with a mixture of crushed nuts, spices and brown sugar and it made a huge impression!  Yum.  I don't remember what Lori ordered, but clearly it was not as good as mine and Ashley's... sorry, Lo.
Rosemary IPA up front, Sweet Potato Ale to the right, mystery (Belgian?) ale to the left.  Sorry for the fuzzy photo!
We gobbled up some standard pub fare, and headed down to River Street, which was looking pretty desolate for a Friday night.  Before heading back to the hotel to crash, we grabbed a beer to go...
Yes!  Wait!  Did you know about that?!  Savannah has an open container law that allows you to literally roam the streets of downtown with beer in hand.  Weird and wonderful.  I had to take a picture as evidence.
After heading back to the hotel, it was straight to bed.  Oh, did I mention that poor little sister was so sick she was hacking her brains out?  It's true.  No sleep for you!  Does that make me sound mean and cruel?  Probably.  But I really did feel so bad she felt so bad.  We tried our best to take care of her, but it turns out Mel and Ash care isn't as effective as amoxicillin.  I got up at 3am to line the dutch oven with banana leaves and wrap them around the meat like a present.  At least Miss Piggy can be all snug and warm in her sheets even if I can't.  I guess I should count my blessings that I wasn't snuggling up to sleep in an oven like this pork was.  Into a 275 degree oven until I clambered out of the bed again at 7.  I got up at 4.  WHAT?!  The oven light isn't on!  Tailspin into panic!  Turns out the oven light was just broken, and it had indeed been cooking and I would indeed get to present my dish as intended.  I got up at 5.  Good.  Still cooking.  Ash got up at 5:30, got Lo some water to ease her coughs and grumbled as she went to the bathroom and took world's longest shower.   Wet headed cousin climbs back into bed, I climb into shower. It's 8am and I am yelling.  Get up!  Am I going to have to go do this thing by myself?!  I'm so sweet in the morning.  It's 8:30 and we're all in the car on the way.  We pull into Savannah Tech Community College and everyone is toting the coolers to the door.  Awesome!  My hands are sweaty and now I am so nervous I feel the urgency of needing a bathroom STAT.  Sweaty is gonna look so sexy, how could they dare not put me on the big screen?
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll give you all the sweet behind the scenes details of MasterChef casting calls...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Technique: Cooking with Dried Chilies

I'm going to let you in on a secret-
Rarely do I ever make the same thing the same way, and I almost NEVER cook soup with an idea of what kind of soup I want it to be.  It just keeps life more interesting, and helps me take advantage of whatever I might have in my fridge or pantry at the time without sending me to the store again.  Another little secret is that I go to the grocery store probably 3 or 4 times a week.  I adore grocery shopping.  The inspiration from the soup I made last night came from two things: the giant pig bone I had sitting in my fridge, and the nice little dried ancho chilies I picked up yesterday at Food Dog.  If you've never cooked with dried chilies, it's a damn shame.  Let's fix that right now.  Not only is it super cheap and easy, it adds depth of flavor like nobody's business and will totally impress your friends.

The good news is you can find these spicy little numbers almost anywhere.  Check either your produce department or the ethnic foods isle.  They can be purchased loose or in bags with several in them.  Ancho chile is my favorite because it has this smoky, sweet, almost raisin like flavor to it.  There are many types: pasilla, chile de arbol, cascabel, and more- you should definitely explore.  One of the best ways to cook with dried chilies is to make your very own chili powder.  How impressive does that sound?!  Guess what... it's easier than putting pants on.  Almost.  Basically, you just grab an assorted handful of  chiles with their seeds removed and toss them in a cast iron skillet with some cumin, paprika, what-have-you, and toast them up a few minutes so they are fragrant before tossing them in the blender.  My dad is a pro at this and used to toast them up in the oven.  This will make your house smell incredible.  Check out Alton Brown's easy and fail proof recipe for specifics.

Want something even easier to do with them?  Use them in a soup or sauce for flavor so authentic your burps will probably sound like mariachi music.  Cut the top off one or two peppers and slit that mother open.  Scrape out all the seeds (most will fall out on their own) and remove  the "veins" (lighter colored stringy fibers on the inside of the pepper).  Mine barely had any visible veins, so I didn't worry much with it.  Put them in a medium container and cover with hot, but not boiling, water.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.   Remove plastic wrap and drain if you're looking to make a paste, or if you're making a soup, you can leave the liquid in there.  Even if you want a paste, save that drained liquid to cook beans, rice, or whatever in it.  Yum!  If you drained them, use a blender (I like my magic bullet for this) to puree them.  If you're making a soup like I did, you want this yummy liquid to stay where it is.  Put peppers and liquid in a blender and puree, or use an immersion blender in that same container to make it super easy.  I ran my puree through a strainer before I put it in my soup.  Totally optional.  After the chiles were in the water with the pork bone I boiled the heck out of, it was clear from my pantry that tortilla soup was in order.  Here's what I did:

1.  Cover bone with water and boil the crap out of it for several hours.
2.  Remove bone and let it cool.  Pick meat off of it and toss it back in the pot with the water.
3.  Rehydrate one dried chile (ancho is what I used) and puree it in its soaking water.  Strain and add to pot.
4.  Chop one onion roughly.  You guessed it, into the pot.
5.  There's corn kernels in the freezer.  Shake about a cup into the pot.
6.  Dump one can of beans into the pot (I used the white ones because I am burnt out on black beans).
7.  Dump can of fire roasted tomatoes in pot.  Add two Tbsp garlic powder, and one of oregano to pot.
8.  Add two chopped up links of chorizo style meatless sausages.
9.  Add 1/3 cup jarred enchilada sauce.
10.  Add the almost used up whole grain tortilla chips in the back of the cabinet after crushing them.

Let this simmer for at least an hour, stirring frequently and skimming fat off the top.  When almost ready to serve, heat 1/3 cup vegetable oil in cast iron skillet until a bead of water flicked into it makes it hiss and dance like nuts.  Fry one tortilla per lucky person eating this, one at a time.  About thirty seconds on each side is good before removing to a plate lined with a paper towel.  Break up into chips for garnish and add to individual bowls of finished soup.  Top with avocado if you have it.  I had mango salsa and cilantro, so there you go.
Tortilla soup for the soul.

This is the first time I have ever made tortilla soup, and it was my favorite.  I will definitely be adding this to my favorite dishes I keep in circulation.
Leaving for MasterChef casting calls in the morning!  I couldn't be more excited, and I can't even express how grateful I am for all the encouragement I've gotten from you guys, family and friends.  Thanks for routing for me!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MasterChef Casting Call this Weekend!

Did I say I'd wait until Monday to tell you my secret?  Oh, well.  I am way too pumped to hold it in, and goodness knows I can use all the prayers, good vibes and positive thoughts I can get this weekend as I travel to Savannah for the open casting calls for the reality TV cooking show, MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay.

This is incredibly out of character for me.  Don't get me wrong, I am all about some cooking competitions.  I'm guilty of even turning potlucks at work into Iron Chef matches.  Dad and I still compete in the kitchen (although he always wins).  The kicker is that I hate reality TV.  In fact, I don't even have TV.  I watch my episodes of The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family on Jeremy's computer.  I don't enjoy the drama, cat fights, and overly staged cheese factors of a reality show.  But when it comes to food it's a whole new ballgame.  I've even learned to love Iron Chef. ("Squisant!  ...Yes...")
...Did anyone get that reference other than my own sister?  Yes?

The truth is, I have a lot of respect for not only Gordon Ramsay and the top chefs that make this show so successful, but I also have loads of respect for any amateur cook who has the gonads to really put himself out there and possible make an arse out of himself on National Television, all in the name of his passion and love for food and cooking.  Did I mention the perks of networking, meeting other cooks, bloggers and food writers, and spending an incredible weekend in one of my favorite cities with my sister and cousin?  So first thing Friday morning, off we trot to Savannah so I can make an arse out of myself while doing what I love most.

Okay, I won't make you wait any longer.  So what am I going to make, for Pete's sake?!  Oh, you know, just some Cochinita Pibil.  What, you haven't heard of it?  Allow me to introduce you...

It's pork...  It's not vegan, yo...

Ewwww!  Can you see the little hair folicles?!  I really should have let my butcher cut this up for me.
Marinated overnight in chilies, ground annatto seeds and citrus...

Wrapped in banana leaves...
(Only after playing matador with the leaves because you are a child)  That's clearly why I'm not wearing make-up as well.  Children don't wear make-up, Dodo.

Braised slowly in the oven for hours, shredded, and eaten with tortillas or fresh lettuce like tacos, with a garnish of pickled onions and Mango Habanero Salsa.

This is a traditional Mayan recipe that has been around for hundreds of years.  It's not widely available (at least around here), but it's one of my favorite things I've ever eaten.  I was pretty pleased with the trial run, so I plan to present the same version on Saturday!  There is no way to heat anything, so I'll be cooking everything ahead of time in my hotel room with a full kitchen, transporting the meat in a thermos, and everything else in a cooler, and plating it when it's my turn.

This is something I never imagined myself doing, but now I'm so looking forward to the experience.  I decided there was no reason I shouldn't or couldn't do it, so Seize the Day!
More details on the history of the dish, inspiration, preparation and recipe will be forthcoming...  Thanks for reading!

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Mango Habanero Salsa

I have something up my sleeve.  Thankfully, it's not a habanero.  But this awesome mango habanero salsa is part of it!  Stay tuned for the big reveal next Monday.  In the meantime, I'll tease you with a few hints.

Have you noticed a trend here?  You may have gathered that I enjoy Mexican food.  A LOT.  If you live in California (you lucky dog), you probably have access to some pretty darn tasty authentic Mexican.  If you live in Durham, NC, you can find some authentic Mexican food, but for the most part it's limited to food trucks, carnicerias (meat markets) and little hole in the wall spots that are pretty amazing if you can dedicate some time to making an adventure out of finding one.  And I hate to break it to you, but for the most part, you are not going to find truly authentic Mexican food (which can actually be quite healthy) at that Torrero's or Bandido's Mexican Restaurant downtown. 

One of the reasons I think Mexican food is so much fun is the crazy beautiful array of colors!  Check out this confetti-lookin' beauty:
Mango Habanero Salsa Fresca
Confession time:  I only used one habanero because I was a scared little baby.  You should use two.  I will certainly use two in my next batch, which I am making this very night.  Two batches in two days because I loved it just that much!  If you are feeding more than just a couple people, you might consider making a double batch.  Trust me, you will have no problem figuring out things to put it on.

1 mango, cut into a small dice
Juice of two limes
Pinch of sea salt
Small red onion, cut into a small dice
2 habanero peppers
2 handfuls fresh cilantro, chopped

First, you're going to want to deal with your mango.  If you've ever dealt with one, then you know the deal.  If not, let me give you a pointer or two.  Mangoes are not a straightforward fruit.  They are tricky and slippery little devils.  Peel your fruit for starters.  It should look like so-
Are you singing the "Rango" theme song while substituting the word "mango" for "Rango"?  Because you totally should.  It made my salsa better, and it can do the same for yours.  Try it- 
"Mang-o! Mang-OOO!"
Now you're ready for the tricky part.  Mangoes don't have a "pit," per se.  At least not in the way a peach or avocado does.  They just get really dense and fibrous and hard to cut in the middle.  This means you aren't going to get all the fruit off of it that you feel entitled to, and that's okay.  Know that it's frustrating for the rest of the world as well.  Just cut off what you can from the outsides, first in large slabs, then in smaller pieces as you get closer to the center.  Get what you can from it, then give the middle to some cool kid or messy adult to chew and suck on.  If they're feeling all Mexican about it, they'll squeeze some lime juice on it and dust it with chili powder because that's what all the cool kids do.  Dice your fruit and proceed to the next step.

Get out your latex gloves for some habanero handling.  No, I'm not joking.  If you do this with your bare hands because you think you have something to prove, then your proof of idiocy will be your burning hands that feel like you stuck them in to an unquenchable fiery furnace.  Enjoy that for the next several hours.

Cut the tops off those bad boys and strip them of their seeds, membranes and dignity.  If you like things a little spicier, feel free to leave some of the membrane in.  

Not only is the habanero one of the hottest peppers in the world, I feel it is also the cruelest.  Why?  Because it tastes so stinkin' fruity and delicious that you want to eat more of it, but you will be punished accordingly.  Give your charming and hateful pepper the fine dice treatment and toss it in a bowl with your diced mangoes.  Add your chopped red onion, cilantro and lime juice.  Add salt to taste.  Taste a couple times and be sure to add your salt a little at a time.  Like toothpaste, you can always add more, but you can't take it back.  You can eat this immediately, but it's going to be even more amazing after sitting in the fridge for a bit to let the flavors get to know one another.

Now, I highly recommend you do this with your salsa:

Toast one corn tortilla on a cast iron pan on your stove top or char it a little over a gas burner.
Mash half an avocado mixed with a squeeze of lime juice, a dash of hot sauce and salt with a fork.  
Top tortilla with avocado mash and a generous heap of your salsa.
Eat this standing up because there's no time to sit when it's this good and this fresh!

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Friday, November 11, 2011

The Best Enchiladas I've Ever Made

This recipe was thrown together using pantry staples in the midst of a cleaning frenzy, not knowing what kind of crazy outcome there might be.  I was so pleased with the outcome, I decided it's the best thing I've cooked in a long, long time.  The only thing I would change would be using whole wheat pastry flour for the cheeze sauce instead of white (which was the only flour I had in my pantry save for spelt), and subbing homemade enchilada sauce for the jarred version I used out of blissful convenience.  My only kid is a fur kid, but I imagine real life kids without fur would love this meal.  Or even real life kids with fur.

1 can organic red lentils
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup jarred or homemade salsa verde
1 to 1 and 1/2 cups jarred or homemade enchilada sauce*
8 corn tortillas
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups water
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup Earth Balance (non hydrogenated vegan margerine)
1/4 Daiya vegan cheddar shreds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Make cheeze sauce: in a medium sauce pan, stir together flour, nutritional yeast, salt and garlic powder.  Whisk in two cups of water and stir frequently over medium heat until bubbly and thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in margarine and mustard.

Run frozen corn kernels under some warm water to defrost.  In large bowl, mix together drained and rinsed lentils, corn kernels, salsa verde, and 1/3 cup of the cheeze sauce.

Pour a thin layer of enchilada sauce to coat the bottom of a large baking dish.  Heat tortillas in a cast iron skillet or in microwave so they become more flexible.  Fill each tortilla with approximately 1/3 cup of filling before rolling the tortilla around the filling and placing it seam side down into the baking dish.  Continue filling and rolling tortillas until filling is used up or you have run out of room.  It's okay if some tortillas unfold or break since it will bake together anyway.

Top with remainder of enchilada sauce, making sure to cover all the dry parts of exposed tortillas with the sauce.  Finally, top the whole shebang with a generous amount of cheeze sauce, or to taste.  Store the rest of the sauce in your fridge to use later in the week as a pizza or nacho topping. Top enchiladas with vegan "cheese" shreds if desired.  They really aren't necessary to be honest, but it does add some visual appeal, especially if you are feeding this to someone who is wary of your cheese-less cheese sauce.  And they deserve to be wary- let's be frank here.  Wary until they taste it.  Bake 30 minutes and strap on the ol' feed bag, as my dad likes to say.

While my goody was in the oven, I put on some Black Eyed Peas for laundry folding music.  CAN'T... HOLD... BACK.... Rock that body! Come on, come on, Rock that body! Laundry will have to wait.  Fergie calls, and it's time for some trampoline dancing.  If you have a trampoline, you should make this part of the recipe.  You would have thought I had put pure, raw crystal meth into Sampson's dog food with the way he responded to this.  I assure you I did not, but I wish you could have been there.  Arms flailing about, hips shaking and singing poorly, I jumped on my little rebounder in the living room while Sam darted at the speed of light from one end of the house to the other tagging walls, and stopping only to jump on the trampoline with me and run in frantic circles whilst barking and making me double over with laughter.  Sam!  Rock that body!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Espress(o) Yoself.

Oh, hello.  If you came here for a recipe today, here's your warning so you can feel free to navigate other wondrous blog pages, pinterest or facebook: no recipe today (okay, just a little lunch idea, but nothing you're going to write home about).  Today's post simply contains the musings of a caffeinated comfort food addict.  There, I said it.

Hello, my name is Melody and I'm a carbaholic.

Is this a problem?  A little over a month ago, I started a Raw Food Cleanse.  Amazing!  While it was only three days, it really changed my whole perspective about the food I put in my body.  I even gave up caffeine completely for over a week!  I would recommend you read it in conjunction with watching Forks Over Knives, but only if you're ready to make some dietary changes.  And some (or most of you) are probably not wanting to do that and that's totally cool.  After I finished the cleanse, I was hooked on some raw kale.  I still am!  Right now in life, there is literally nothing more I could want for lunch than a trip to the Whole Foods Salad Bar.  Pile that ugly container full of garlicky kale, spinach, mixed greens, chickpeas, roasted sweet potato, pumpkin seeds and some lemon tahini dressing and it's heaven.  It tastes amazing, fills me up and leaves me feeling great and energized until dinner.
Git in muh belly.
So what's the problem?  Laziness.  While for awhile it was so easy to come home on my lunch break and fix delicious raw zucchini pasta or a Hugh Jass salad (as Mama Pea likes to call them), when I run out of ingredients or fail to make a shopping trip when I should, I end up eating this:

Warning: May be habit forming.
What is this unusual mess?  It's the magical combination of Daiya cheddar "cheese" shreds and homemade hummus cooked grilled cheese style in a cast iron skillet with a teaspoon full of Earth Balance Vegan Margarine.  I was introduced to this killer combo by Peas and Thank You, where they are aptly referred to as "crack wraps".  And while crack is whack, these are not.  This is my default lunch, snack, meal, or comfort food when I am feeling too lazy to cut up veggies for salads or something more healthy and full of nutrients.  It could be worse, thought right?  Not when you start washing it down with egg nog flavored soy milk.  That's when you know it's a problem.  And now the caffeine is starting to slowly sneak in.  While I don't have a daily cup in the morning, I might have a latte in the afternoon, or a cup of black tea one morning because I'm feeling too festive not to.  Or a full blown two shot cafe americano.  Hello, espresso; let's be friends again.  While allowing myself caffeine during the week (but not daily) is forgivable, I have decided, the lack of vegetables at lunch is not.

I hereby resolve to find a solution.  If I wrote it on a blog, I have to hold to it.  It's like law now.  Here's my best idea.  What if I actually make it a rule that I MUST make a list before making my weekly trip that I MUST make to Whole Foods and then when I bring home all the nutrient dense veggies on my list, I will wash, chop, and store them in the fridge immediately.  I even wrote it in the largest font so you can hold me to it.  That way, it takes literally seconds to throw together a healthy salad or stir fry and I don't find myself making excuses to make things that melt on a daily basis.  If I can get more fiber and greens into my breakfasts and lunches, then it's okay if I make things like cheezy chili mac for dinner if I feel so inclined.

I know I'm not alone in this rut thing.  What kind of food ruts do you get stuck in?  Is caffeine a necessary evil, or do you stay away from it?

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jose the Dog and Butternut Squash Fries

One of my favorite parts of the week every week is going to spend Sunday evenings with my parents.  Jeremy and I corral Sampson into the car and head over for dinner.  It's always a challenge to keep Sam reasonably calm enough to not give Jose (the overly neurotic yet adorable chihuahua belonging to Mom and Dad) a massive stroke.  It's not as easy as it sounds.
Jose enjoying his throne after a romp in the snow last year.

Chicken wings were on the menu for dinner this Sunday, so I whipped up a batch of butternut squash "fries" and made a humungo salad.  And then I did something brilliant:

Using fries for croutons > using croutons for croutons.
Just look at this delicious mess.
Butternut Squash Fries
2 small butternut squash, peeled and seeds scooped out
1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil
Garlic powder
Chili powder
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Chop up squash into fry shaped pieces.  Spread out on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle desired seasonings on top of fries.  You could do cinnamon and nutmeg here for a sweet version or really any combo.  I like my fries garlicky.  Use your hands to toss the whole mess together, evenly distributing oil and spices among the fries.  Bake for 45 minutes, flipping fries once halfway through.  If they aren't as crispy as you'd like, by all means leave them in a bit longer, but just make sure to check to make sure they aren't burning.  Serve with ketchup if desired or use as a topping on a salad like the one below.

Sunshine Salad
6 cups mixed greens or salad mix
1 large avocado cut into slices
2 handfuls dry roasted almonds
1/4 cup sliced sundried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
2 tangerines, peeled and segmented
1 handful butternut squash fries for each serving
2 Tbsp lemon tahini dressing or citrus vinaigrette for each serving

Layer all ingredients on top of the bed of greens except the dressing (add that after the salad has been plated).  This salad is so crunchy, bright and full of citrus.  I hope it makes you think of sunshine too.  

As for Jose, he made it through a night of having all his precious little toys (Moo, Squirrely, Chicktoria, Dolphie, Roo and Baby Hedgie) slobbered all over and dominated by Sampson.  And then the next morning after the threat was gone and he had reclaimed his possessions, he neatly gathered them into a pile and peed on each one.  He might need some doggie therapy, Mom.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One Pot Meal: Spicy Quinoa with Chorizo

Okay, so I dirtied two pots for this one despite the title, but it was still a quick and easy complete meal in a bowl.  You might be wondering if I ditched the whole no animal products thing after reading the title of this post.  While I did not use actual delicious and amazing authentic pork chorizo, I did find this little gem at Whole Foods: Mexican Chipotle Grain Meat Sausages by Field Roast.  Does that sound disgusting to you?  While it was definitely delicious, I completely understand should you choose to make this dish with authentic Mexican chorizo instead.

But wait!  Do you know about quinoa?  Did you just say "kwin-oh-ah" to yourself when you read it?  It's okay, Jeremy did too at first.  Of course I totally got it right the first try, duh...  It's "keen-wa".  Keen!  If you are totally keen on quinoa, you should definitely use it in Stuffed Acorn Squash.  If not, the recipe below is a pretty sweet introduction.

Quinoa is an ancient grain that was a staple part of the Inca diet.  (See how I'm totally using my Latin American Studies degree while blogging?!)  I read that on the box.  Here's some awesome stats on this awesome grain:

  • It's a complete protein in and of itself.  Take that, rice and beans.
  • It's got a nice little "pop" to it when you bite in that gives it a satisfying, toothsome feel.
  • The germ (not like cooties, but like the part that will help it germinate, silly) is this little light yellow tail thing that swirls around the grain to make each one look like a miniature Saturn.  Trippy.
  • Like couscous, it cooks really quickly and is almost fool proof to make.  But it's better for you than couscous, so try using quinoa in your next recipe that calls for couscous.  Look how smart you are.
  • It's delicious!  Did you really need all those other reasons?

2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup jarred or homemade salsa verde
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 small onion, chopped
2 links meat free chorizo "sausage"
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

This dish was born out of a need for a comforting bowl of something hot and full of protein, lack of groceries, and a special ingredient that provided inspiration.  I was looking for a quick fix, but if you have more time on your hands, definitely toss in whatever veggies you might have on hand or some chopped garlic to saute with the onions for an added flavor and nutritional boost.

Cook the quinoa in the vegetable broth (instead of water) according to package directions.  While that's working, lightly coat the bottom a heavy bottomed pot with the olive oil and saute the onions on medium heat until they become translucent.  Crumble in the chorizo, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and incorporating it into the onions.  The bottom of the pot is probably starting to get little browned bits sticking to it.  You want this.  Wait until you have a good amount of browning going on (but watch to make sure it's not burning) and add in the white wine.  Make sure to use the wine and the steam it's putting off to help you scrub up and incorporate all those yummy brown bits into your mixture.

Sauteed onion, "chorizo", white wine and salsa verde.

Check your quinoa.  If it has absorbed all the liquid, dump it in the pot with your spicy onion goodness.  If not, keep it simmering until the grains are fluffy and the liquid is absorbed, but be sure to watch your onion mixture to make sure it doesn't start to brown again after the wine has evaporated.  If it does, just add in a little water to get those brown bits up again.

Cooked quinoa before combining with onion mixture.

Once you've combined your quinoa with your onion mixture, stir in the salsa verde and fold in the frozen peas.  Don't worry- they'll defrost quickly but still maintain their fresh sweetness and refreshing pop.  Ta-da!  You're all set for dinner.  Scoop out a serving into a bowl and garnish with a sour cream alternative (or plain greek yogurt if you eat it), hot sauce and cilantro if you like.

I can't wait to make something with cinnamon and watch The Family Stone soon.  I'm thinking that definitely needs to happen sometime this week because I can't stop thinking about it.  Now that the time change has happened and it's dark when I get home, I am all about transitioning into holiday mode.  Break out the crafting gear and mulling spices!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Hummus Among Us

How was your weekend?  Mine was pretty excellent; especially the part yesterday when all I did from 9am until 12pm was listen to John Mayer really loud, lay on the couch with pup, and make hummus.  What, hummus doesn't sound like breakfast food to you?

When the clock struck 12 noon, Jeremy and I decided it was time for him to put on a hat and me to put my hair in a ponytail and head out the door to The Federal to meet Mom and Dad for some crazy good grub and beer. This place never disappoints in either category.  I was too hungry to get a picture of it, but I had the veggie sliders and a side salad.  And lots of Jeremy's delicious garlic fries he forfeited by having his plate near me.  Sometimes really good food does make me happy, is that such a crime?  Just like this hummus is going to make you happy.  So don't feel bad if you find yourself half a bag of baby carrots deep into this stuff- it's tasty taste AND full of protein and healthy items for the win.

3 cloves garlic
Juice of two lemons
2 cans organic chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved
2 Tbsp tahini (ground sesame seeds)
1/3 to 1/2 cup reserved liquid from chickpeas
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Dump all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.  You will have to stop a couple times and push down the stuff on the sides to make sure everything gets incorporated and blended smoothly enough.  You want it really smooth.  If you want to make it a little richer, add the olive oil.  It's perfectly delicious without it, but I added it for good measure.  Pour your super duper hummus into a storage container with a tightly fitting lid, or a serving dish if you're smart and eating it right away.  Top with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some paprika.  Feel free to make limitless variations.  Add some roasted red peppers to a batch.  Toss in a little jalapeno and cilantro if you're feeling spicy, or give it some zing by stirring in some finely chopped olives and capers.  Heck, top it with some fresh chopped parsley while you're at it and save some for me.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Cheezy Chili Mac

Happy Friday!

I'm celebrating Friday by busting out the Christmas CDs.  Before anyone starts casting stones, let it be known that I realize this is ridiculous and quite possibly may even be off putting.  I don't care.  Although the Josh Groban choice this morning may have been a little much.  I think I'll ease into it a little more smoothly tomorrow with something like the Sufjan Stevens Christmas CD.  Now there is a gem.

So for lunch yesterday, I made this amazeballs chili burrito with avocado and lime crema from leftovers from the night before.  After polishing that off with a good amount of baby carrots and homemade hummus, I was feeling pretty full.  Okay, so I was feeling really full and like I needed a big salad for dinner.  So just know that I had the best of intentions.  Then I got a headache and started feeling all moody and came home and whipped up some extreme comfort food.  Queue the latest episode of Modern Family (hilarious), pass the hot sauce, and let's call it a night.

Cheezy Chili Mac
1 lb package whole wheat or vegetable shell pasta
2 cans vegan chili beans or 3 cups leftover homemade chili
1 medium zucchini
1/2 package Daiya pepper jack shreds
1 package silken tofu
2 Tbsp hot sauce
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
Sea salt to taste
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook entire package of noodles in plenty of water, according to package directions.  Chop a zucchini into small bite size pieces (it doesn't have to be pretty) and chunk all the chunks into the cooking noodles and water about 3 minutes before the noodles are done.  This is not a precise science.

While noodles (and zook) cook, combine chili (homemade, frozen, canned, whatever) with all the remaining ingredients except the "cheese" shreds and bread crumbs.  Stir/mash it all together.  Drain cooked noodles and put them back in the pot.  Add the chili mixture to the noodles and stir to combine well.  *Don't be scared of the tofu.  You're going to be amazed at how it brings all the flavors together and ends up looking and tasting just like the delicious cottage cheese or ricotta your grandma puts in her baked macaroni and cheese she brings to all the potlucks.

Dump all of the mixture into a large casserole dish and pat it down into an even layer.  Top with the bread crumbs, spreading them evenly over the mixture.  I shook on a little extra sea salt, garlic powder and paprika here.  Spread "cheese" shreds evenly over the whole thing.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Dig in.

Are you still with me here?  Are you mad that I put tofu instead of cheese into Macaroni and CHEESE?  I don't blame you.  But listen, if you eat dairy, please feel free to use regular cheese on top if you want.  But please do try to keep the rest of the ingredients the same, because I think you'll amaze yourself and maybe you'll love it.  And you don't necessarily need to tell anyone you eat this with that it doesn't have cheese.  They won't be able to tell.  In fact, I issue this as a challenge!  Cousin Ashley, I'm talking to you.  Make this for your cheese and carb addicted husband.  Maw-Maw always said, "sometimes it's okay to tell little white lies."  Let me know how it turns out!  Salad for lunch today, I promise.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hearty Chili with Lime Crema

There was a time in my life when all I wanted every single day was the vegetarian chili at Mad Hatter's. Served in a huge bowl with a ginormous slice of house baked ciabatta on the side, this monster was topped with slices of fresh avocado, a lime cilantro sour cream, and lots of shredded cheese. But really, the toppings were the star here. Better known for its other specialties, the chili itself at Mad Hatter's was a bit... bland.

Though I still crave that warm comforting bowl of normalcy, my budget no longer craves it, and my body no longer wants the bloat and crack-habit-like cravings that come with cheese consumption for me. Holy Schnizzle. I can't believe what I have just done. Now, I have made my fair share of chili beans. In fact, every year I host a chili cook off at work because I just can't get enough. I come by it honest, since growing up it was one of our favorite meals. My mom is one heck of a comfort food cook. I don't think there is much that is more comforting than her french toast, her spaghetti sauce, or her chili. But when it comes to veggie chili, there is always something a little lackluster about it. My last couple batches were filling, satisfying and just okay. Tonight something incredible happened. I found a secret ingredient. I don't care who you are- even Ron Burgundy or Ron Swanson would love this meatless chili. I created a monster.
Trust me on this one and give this one a go.

I'm obviously all about the toppings.
It looks like a lot of ingredients, but most of them are pantry staples.

 Chili Ingredients
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 can dark red kidney beans
1/2 can black beans
4 or 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 small can green chilies
1/2 package meatless crumbles (or whole if you like it meaty)
1 15 oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
1/8 cup chili powder
2 Tbsp cumin
1 1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp paprika
2 Tbsp tahini
1/4 cup organic ketchup
3 good dashes hot sauce

Lime Crema
 Juice of one lime
1/3 cup Tofutti Sour Supreme, or organic sour cream
1 small handful fresh cilantro

Toppings (Optional, but why wouldn't you)
Chopped fresh green onion or sweet onion
Fresh avocado slices or guacamole
Shredded organic cheese or vegan cheese
Diced tomatoes

In a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat, saute chopped onion and garlic in the olive oil until slightly translucent.  Add in meat crumbles and continue to cook for a few minutes.  Add in chili powder and cumin.  If you have homemade chili powder, please do use that.  Continue to stir a few minutes and add in the canned green chilies.  It should look pretty messy right now.  Like this:

I didn't have any tomato paste, so I added in ketchup at this point.  I actually really loved the sweetness it added to the smoky combo at this juncture.  Then I dumped in one of my secret weapons, the can of fire roasted organic tomatoes I picked up last week.  I don't use these often because they are more expensive, but in a smoky and flavorful dish like this it was totally worth it.  Drain and rinse your beans and add them to the mixture.  I used only a half can of black beans because I used the other half at lunch for a burrito.  Add your cocoa powder.  It won't make your beans taste chocolaty, I promise.  It just plays off the chili powder to add more depth of flavor, which is what you want in chili.

Enter the next secret ingredient and the odd one: tamari.  Tamari is just sesame seeds ground up into a tasty paste.  I never cooked with it until this past month, and I'm amazed at the incredible flavor it can impart to so many dishes.  When I opened the fridge to put the ketchup back, the tamari caught my eye.  Would it's earthy flavor and rich texture beef up this beefless mixture?  It was a dangerous thought, but I live on the edge so I added in a tablespoon.  I tasted it... HARK!  One more tablespoon... SWEET LITTLE OLD LADY!  I don't think I'll ever go back to making veggie chili without it.

Add hot sauce to taste, and let this simmer while you make your lime crema or until you're ready to eat.

To make the crema, simply combine the lime juice, cilantro and sour cream (or Tofutti) in a small blender (I used my Magic Bullet that I adore) until cilantro is roughly chopped and all ingredients are incorporated.  Use as a condiment to top your chili. I could only wait about a half hour to let it simmer and dug in after piling the toppings on high.  Check out this meaty texture!

I can't wait to eat it for lunch tomorrow in a burrito!  Leftover chili is even better the day after.  Do you ever get in a lunch rut?  Is it weird that I liked to eat literally the same exact thing every single day for...ahem... a year??

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dinner in 5! (or 10, tops...)

This isn't rocket science here, folks.  But it is a tasty, healthy and lightening fast dinner that you can put together in less time than it takes me to dry my crazy hair every morning.  Full disclosure: (I recently purchased some dry shampoo and now only have to dry my hair every other day.  Whoop Whoop!).

Like many if not most of the recipes I make up, this came together completely haphazardly based on the fact that I didn't get home last night until 9:15pm, was ravenous, and had these particular items in my fridge/freezer/pantry.  Feel free to make any substitutions you like while still following the same basic idea for endless combinations.  I did peas, pesto, walnuts, and soba noodles with broiled grape tomatoes, but you could do peanuts, teriyaki sauce, red bell peppers, and rice noodles with broiled whole green onions.  See how this works?

Tomatoes after broiling

Here's the breakdown of what happened to create this li'l ditty:

1.  Come home and turn oven on to broil.  Dump full dry pint of (almost at the end of their rope) cherry tomatoes onto baking sheet.

2.  Drizzle with a little olive oil (a couple teaspoons should be fine), sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Give the baking sheet a good jiggle so it does all the even distribution for you.  How thoughtful.

3.  Put it on the top rack of your oven and broil it while you do the rest of the steps.

4.  Boil water.  Add one bundle (soba noodles come in bundles that serve one to two people) of soba noodles to boiling water.  Pat yourself on the back smugly, knowing that since soba is made of buckwheat, you are doing your health a favor.  Cook noodles for four minutes, when they will be done.

5.  While waiting for the water to boil and then for the noodles to cook, grab a jar of homemade or store bought pesto (the Classico brand is totally delicious) out of the fridge.  Also grab a handful or two (1/3 cup) of frozen peas and defrost them in some warm water.  Cut a lemon in half.  Get your strainer.  Does this seem like several steps?

6.  Drain pasta and put back into pot with defrosted and drained peas.  Take your tomatoes out of the broiler and add them all to the pot.  Add about 1/4 c. pesto to the pot, and squeeze your lemon half over all of it.  Stir.

7.  Divide into two portions (or one if you're really hungry) and top with chopped walnuts, parmesan cheese, or a good dose of "nooch" (nutritional yeast).  Feast, Beast!

This photo makes it look gross.  It was really un-gross!  In fact, it was pretty, pretty tasty.

The thought for the day brought to you by the tag on my Apple Cinnamon tea:

"The finest pleasure is kindness to others."
-Jean de La Bruyere

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