Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mother Power’s Congo Bar Ice Cream


I know what you’re thinking – who is this Mother Power, what is a congo bar, and how do these two things translate into ice cream? Well, I’ll tell you. Each holiday season we’re sent a box (and I mean a BOX) of home-made baked goods by my mother-in-law, whose last name is Power (yeah, I know you’re baffled by my decision to keep my last name). Within this refrigerator-box full of goodies is an assortment of sweets that usually changes from year-to-year, but the mainstay is always the disgustingly sweet and obscenely delicious block of congo bars. You’d think they were made of lead because they weigh so much, but in reality they are a baked concoction of graham cracker crumbs, semi-sweet chocolate chips and butterscotch chips, and shredded coconut, layered and then drenched in a can of sweetened condensed milk. The first time I had one I nearly fell to my knees, which is why I make them each year for various holiday parties (watching people fall is funny). That, and they’re always the talk of the party even though it didn’t take me hours to make them and the ingredients aren’t exotic – they’re just a combination of flavors you wouldn’t think to put together until you’ve tried them. They’re salty, they’re sweet, and holy mother of Buddha they’re delicious!

But, enough about the congo bars. Now that you know what they are, I can tell you about my recent obsession with my new Kitchenaid ice cream maker attachment and how I quickly nosedove from making “healthy” ice cream by creating the recipe I’ll be sharing with you now: Mother Power’s Congo Bar Ice Cream!

INGREDIENTS
1C Coconut milk
1C Heavy whipping cream
1C Half-and-half
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2/3C Semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3C Butterscotch chips
1C shredded coconut (I used unsweetened, but you can used sweetened)
12 Graham crackers, crushed
*For the purpose of this recipe, I’ll be explaining how to make it with the Kitchenaid ice cream maker attachment.

QUICK & DIRTY
Combine the liquid ingredients in a bowl and chill for at least 1 hour.

Toss the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and shredded coconut in a separate bowl and place that mix in the refrigerator as well.

Crush the graham crackers with your hands in a plastic bag till the pieces are no larger than a nickel each, but not smaller than the head a pencil eraser. Throw the bag in the fridge too.

Once chilled for an hour, remove prefrozen Kitchenaid ice cream bowl from the freezer, and set up mixer per the instructions (attach bowl, place mixing paddle in bowl, attach paddle attachment to mixer, place mixer head in its down and locked position, and join paddle to paddle attachment). Turn the mixer on “stir” and slowly pour in liquid mixture. Allow mixer to mix ice cream for no less than 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, the mixture will have doubled in size and be the consistency of softy serve. With the mixer still on “Stir”, slowly add in the chip and coconut mixture, followed by the crushed graham crackers. Allow mixer to continue to stir for about 2 minutes more.

Remove ice cream from the bowl, and place in a tightly sealing container. Place container in the freezer and allow ice cream to set for an additional 2 hours, transforming the soft-serve into motherfucking ice cream.

Eat!

ROOKIE COOKIES
Ice cream is incredibly easy to make as long as you follow the golden rule of ice cream making: chill. Seriously, the ice cream mixing bowl must have been in the freezer for at least 15 hours, if not overnight, and your ingredients must be cold as well, or you’ll end up with soupy soft serve that I can’t vouch for! That having been said…

Combine the liquid ingredients in a bowl and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Put the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and shredded coconut in a separate bowl and mix them well with a spoon. Place this bowl of mix in the refrigerator as well.

Place the graham crackers in a plastic bag (a sandwich bag), and break them into pieces with your hands (as if you’re putting crackers into soup). Break the crackers until the pieces are no larger than a nickel each, but not smaller than the head a pencil eraser. You want to keep them this size, so they don’t get utterly pulverized when added to the ice cream – you want to taste them in the ice cream! Throw this bag in the fridge too.

Once ingredients are chilled for an hour, remove the prefrozen Kitchenaid ice cream bowl from the freezer, and set up mixer per the instructions (attach bowl, place mixing paddle in bowl, attach paddle attachment to mixer, place mixer head in its down and locked position, and join paddle to paddle attachment). Turn the mixer on “stir” and slowly pour in liquid mixture. This is important!!! Do not add ANYTHING to the bowl until the mixer is turned on and the paddle is moving. If you don’t follow these instructions, the milk mixture will freeze on contact, and you may break the paddle when turning the mixer on. So, turn the mixer on FIRST, then add the milk mixture. Allow mixer to “Stir” ice cream for no less than 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, the mixture will have doubled in size and be the consistency of softy serve. With the mixer still on “Stir”, slowly add in the chip and coconut mixture, followed by the crushed graham crackers. Allow mixer to continue to stir for about 2 minutes more.

Remove ice cream from the bowl, and place in a tightly sealing container – I like to reuse the large Chobani Greek Yogurt containers (they seem to work well for ice cream). Place container in the freezer and allow ice cream to set for an additional 2 hours, transforming the soft-serve into motherfucking ice cream.

Eat!


TIPS & TRICKS
I remember my parents having made ice cream when I was a kid in one of those gigantic old R2-D2-looking ice cream makers that required half a quarry of salt and two full years to make the ice cream. I mean, ice cream IS my favorite food, but what a drag! Thanks to the good people at Kitchenaid, if you store your freezer bowl in the freezer you can be enjoying finished ice cream in less than 4 hours (or less than an hour and a half if you don’t mind the soft-serve consistency).

This is my second attempt at crafting ice cream. My first was fresh strawberry ice cream that I made this past weekend. While the recipe above yields creamy ice cream, the strawberry I made was drier (less creamy, more crumbly), so I can only assume the water content in the strawberries was the variable that made it more dry. If I had to do the strawberry again, I’d use a higher percentage of heavy cream, and I’d wait to add the strawberries until half-way through (instead of in the beginning).


Like making any other type of food, it takes time and practice to get ice cream just the way you want it. I’ll be practicing patience as I continue to try to make an assortment of other ice creams, sorbets, and ice cream bombs (headed to eBay after posting this to look up ice cream bomb molds!). My advice regarding your ice cream making adventures? Chill (pun intended), don’t stress over the new cooking rules associated with making ice cream (the first time I was in a big hurry to get the shit in the bowl), and have fun!  I’m sure you’ll be seeing more ice cream recipes posted here in the future…

Friday, February 26, 2010

Martini Time!

Because it’s been a LONG fucking week for me and because it’s probably been an equally LONG fucking week for you too, can you guess what time it is? It’s MARTINI TIME!!! After meeting a schedule that’s undoubtedly busier than a Vancouver Olympian’s for the past two weeks, I’m ready to relax, and what better way than with a yummy martini on a Friday evening?


INGREDIENTS
2oz Pear Grey Goose vodka
3/4oz St-Germain
1oz Champagne (aka, sparkling white wine)

QUICK & DIRTY
For you ex-bartenders out there, this is a piece of cake: in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine 2oz. Pear Grey Goose vodka, 3/4oz St. Germain, and 1oz champagne. Shake. Pour. Garnish with sliced pear. And last but not least, make sure to tell your customers that they’re drinking a Cindy Lop-her ;)

ROOKIE COOKIES
Okay, folks, in this post I’m going to reveal all my guest-bartending knowledge. Use it for good – not evil.
Ever wish you could look as cool as Tom Cruise in Cocktail, throwing bottles around like Bozo the clown and mixing the classiest drinks while balancing “fun-loving tourist entertainer” and “sex symbol”? Yeah, me either. All I really ever wanted was to be able to make myself a really bitchin’ drink that wouldn’t leave me hung over the next morning. Here’s the secret: skip the syrups and sweeteners, and go for top-shelf liquors and naturally-sweetened alcohols and mixers (aka, crushed fresh fruit). Yeah, this makes a more expensive drink, but it also means you’ll be up at a reasonable hour tomorrow, and you won’t be running to the bathroom immediately after greasy diner food – always a plus if you’re a regular anywhere.


If you’re not used to mixing cocktails, don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a cocktail shaker. Yes, they make things easier, but if you learn the method I describe below no special tools are required, and your friends will think you spent at least one summer as a bartender, which will at the very least move you up a notch in the book of your one friend who’s kind of a douche bag.

Fill a glass 1/2 –full with ice. To properly measure an ounce, fill a standard shot glass (it’s an ounce!) – here you’ll see my classy Las Vegas shot glass modeling the ounce of, well, whatever.


Pour all ingredients over ice. Next you’re going to mix them using 2 cups. Pay attention to what I’m about to say next, because it’s important. NEVER use glass-on-glass. If you do, you’re asking for disaster. Typically, bartenders use a stainless steel mixing tumbler and a pint glass to mix cocktails. Since you don’t live in a bar, grab a plastic cup – disposable or reusable, it doesn’t matter. Next pour the drink and the ice into the cup with the WIDER rim – it’s important this cup is on the bottom, or you’re gonna get your fru-fru drink all over yourself. Next, place the cup with the smaller circumference inside the cup with the drink in it. Push it down to ensure a seal. Next, break out your inner Tom Cruise and shake it like a Polaroid picture. Remember: more than 5 shakes is masturbation.


Next, holding both cups still together, one in each hand, carefully create an opening about ¼ inch and no more than the smallest cube of ice that’s chilling your mixed beverage. With the small separation, strain your drink from the ice into the cup of your choosing. Martinis don’t necessitate martini glasses, so pour it in whatever the hell you want (just make sure it’s clean).

TIPS & JUSTIFICATIONS
Although I’ve never had a full-time bartending gig, I always get accused of it when guest bartending for my derby team. Apparently I look like I know what I’m doing. Good for me. This martini was inspired by the bar and bar-owner who gladly let my team guest bartend once a month last year to help us fundraise for travel: Bad Decisions. Bad Decisions is possibly the MOST underrated bar in Baltimore. Granted, it’s name says “vomiting on the sidewalk, then going home with the uggo”, however Bad Decisions is one of the most unique martini bars I’ve ever been to  - in Baltimore or otherwise. They have a vast selection of proprietary martinis that are made from the freshest fruits and most top-shelf liquors from around the world. It was here that I fell in love with St-Germain, one of the ingredients in this martini. St-Germain is a French alcohol that’s made from elderflower, which gives it a unique floral taste, without being perfumy or too sickeningly sweet. When I guest bartended at Bad Decisions last, I’m pretty sure it was an ingredient, along with Pimms, that makes a pretty damn good sangria tasting concoction. It’s light, it’s versatile, and once you try it, you’re going to want to keep experimenting with what else you can put it in.

You may have noticed that my champagne (cough, cough) still has its $5.99 price sticker on it in the picture. If you noticed that, then you’ve also noticed I’m a woman of distinguishing tastes. As far as champagne (aka, sparkling wine) goes, I like the sweet shit – the $5.99 shit – sue me. The important thing to remember here and any other time you’re cooking or drink-concocting is that if you don’t like an ingredient in something, you’re probably not going to like the end result. So, if you like dry, pricy champagne use dry, pricy champagne. If you’re an 18-year-old female hockey player who just won an Olympic gold metal, use Dom and don’t apologize to Canadian officials for consuming alcohol under age on every major broadcasting network across world. At least it’s not Crystal. THAT would send a bad message to the kids.

Well, I’ve almost entirely wasted this buzz typing out this entry, so I’m outtie 5000. I hope you like your martini as much as I’ve been enjoying mine. I think I’ll listen to a little bit more Beach House and pass out on the sofa in my work clothes. Cheers.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Roasted Red Peppers (Vegan, Vegetarian)


INGREDIENTS
red peppers (duh)

This week red peppers were on sale for $1/lb at the grocery store, so like every other red-blooded American in that store, I allowed myself to be herded toward the sale bin and shoved 6 of the largest and brightest red peppers into my cart. It was only after I wandered away, satisfied with my savvy shopperness, that I thought to myself, "What the fuck am I going to do with 6 peppers?". Then it hit me: roast the bitches!!!

QUICK & DIRTY
  1. Preheat your oven to "Broil" or set the temperature to 450-degrees if your broiler is filthy like mine is.
  2. Thoroughly scrub peppers with a vegetable brush and peel off any stickers.
  3. Dry peppers and lay them on their sides on a baking sheet.
  4. Bake/broil peppers for 30-minutes total, turning the peppers with tongs every 10 minutes, or when the tops become blackened and blistered.
  5. After 30 minutes (or when peppers are blistered all the way around), remove peppers from the oven and promptly place peppers into a large bowl, covering bowl with saran wrap.
  6. Allow peppers to cool and store in fridge overnight. Don't remove the saran wrap!
  7. The following day, remove peppers from the fridge and peel and deseed peppers, discarding seeds, skin, and excess liquid.
  8. Place pepper flesh in an airtight container and cover in olive oil. Until used, peppers can be stored in olive oil for up to two weeks (although I always feel weird eating anything left in there for over a week).

ROOKIE COOKIES
Okay, kids, this really ain't that hard. Follow the instructions above, paying special attention to:
  • leaving the peppers uncut when you place them in the oven
  • placing the peppers on their sides when you place them in the oven
  • not fucking with the peppers once you cover the bowl with saran wrap (sealing them in the bowl allows the moisture to continue steaming the peppers, which makes the skin easier to peel the next day)
The next day, when peeling the peppers, you don't need anything special - just your hands. Holding a pepper in the palm of one hand, peel the skin of the pepper off in strips with the other. Rotate the pepper 360-degrees in your palm, ensuring you've peeled all the skin off the pepper.

Next, allow the flesh of the pepper to split open. It's gonna want to do this naturally anyhow. If possible, begin splitting the flesh from the bottom up. When the pepper is fully split, turn the pepper inside-out, so that the majority of the seeds stay attached to the stem, and detach the flesh from the stem, discarding the stem. Run your fingers down the flesh to get rid of any rogue seeds before placing them in your airtight container.


TIPS & JUSTIFICATIONS
I've always enjoyed roasted red peppers, but I've never attempted roasting them myself until now. How did they turn out? Well, I didn't try them yet, but the smell has been intoxicating, and I've pretty much had to beat my domestic partner away from the fridge with a stick because he wants to eat them straight out of the oil. I'm not allowing that to happen, because I have a plan... Tomorrow I shall make my own roasted red pepper hummus!!! Stay tuned :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Blueberry Hot Toddy (Vegetarian)



INGREDIENTS
2 oz blueberry juice (or another real fruit juice)
2 oz brandy
1 tbsp honey (optional for vegans)
1 tsp lime juice

After having been away for work earlier this week, I caught a nasty cold on my return home. Yesterday was bad, and after much whining a Twitter friend (@CplPuni5hment) suggested I make a hot toddy. I've never had much luck with hot toddies. The recipes I've been given in the past involve a million ingredients, including some sort of crushed fruit, which only makes me angry when I attempt to drink the concoction and get slapped in the lip with some nastified half-mutilated raspberry. So this time I decided to replace the actual fruit with some fruit juice I had lying around!



QUICK & DIRTY
1. Place juice in a mug and microwave until very hot.
2. Add brandy, honey, and lime juice.
3. Stir.
4. Sip slowly to let the citrus and honey (if you used it) soothe your throat.

ROOKIE COOKIES
This is a simple enough recipe that you should be able to follow the quick and dirty instructions, however the one rookie mistake that could be made here is your microwaving the brandy - don't do that! A hot toddy includes alcohol, because the alcohol makes you relaxed and sleepy, but if you cook alcohol at too high a temperature, the alcohol evaporates. Don't worry about adding the brandy to a steaming hot beverage, just don't cook it itself.

TIPS & JUSTIFICATIONS
A hot toddy is supposed to be soothing - it's supposed to make you feel better, however it also makes you dehydrated because of the alcohol content, and dehydration will only make any cold you have worse. This isn't to say you can't drink one. Just use common sense and make sure you've drank plenty of liquids that day. Maybe to be extra sure you're not doing more harm than good, chug a glass of water after you've finished your toddy. That's what I did.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mister Pistol’s Party Poppers (Vegetarian)



INGREDIENTS
1 cup real mayonnaise
2 cups sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
1 8-oz can black olives, sliced
2-3 tbsp onion, diced
1 loaf tiny rye bread (cocktail rye)

Ahhh… Mr. Pistol’s Party Poppers – they’ve got to be good with a name like that, right?! But who, you ask, is Mr. Pistol, and why does this gun-slinging mystery man make party poppers? These are all good questions, dear Watson! Why, Mr. Pistol is a friend of mine, my former roller derby bench coach, and husband of my former teammate, Pistol Whip. Confused? All you really need to know is that when there’s a party, Mr. Pistol does the cooking, because he’s the shit. Over the years I’ve asked him for several of his recipes, and although I got this one straight from the horse’s mouth, I think he may have held a little something back from me, because I swear his party poppers taste better than mine did!

I made this recipe last weekend for what turned out to be a devastating end-of-season playoff run for the Ravens. In doing so, I made the mixture at home and then brought it and the bread to bake at the party. So the Ravens played like shit – at least the food was good, right?













QUICK & DIRTY
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine mayo, cheese, olives, and onion. Place a tablespoon dollop of Mister Pistol’s mixture onto each slice of tiny rye. Bake for 15 minutes.

ROOKIE COOKIES
See Quick & Dirty, above, cause this is the EASIEST recipe ever – you don’t need to know how to cook to make it!

TIPS & JUSTIFICATIONS
Even though I got a TON of compliments on these little buggers, they didn’t come out exactly like they do when Mr. Pistol cooks them, as I mentioned above. Although I can’t really pinpoint why, I do suspect the consistency of the popper topping would have been better had it been mixed in a food processer. I, however, got frustrated when cleaning my food processor several years ago and threw the damn thing out, so I hand-mixed the popper topping. Oh, well.


Vegans, how does Vegenaise bake? Does it hold up? I think I’m gonna score some from my local health-food store, The Health Concern, and see how it does when warmed. Of course, you’d need veggie cheese too, but I know some good veggie cheese that melt better than others (Veggie Slices).

If you’re from Baltimore or ever in the area, look out for Mr. Pistol cruising the streets of Hampden with his and Pistol Whip’s new burrito truck. Word is they’ll be open after all other dining choices close. So before stumbling home, stumble to the burrito truck for some good treats – I even hear there will be vegetarian and vegan options available!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mexican Super Salad with Creamy Chipotle Vinaigrette (vegan)




SALAD INGREDIENTS
1 head romaine lettuce (about 9 oz)
8 ¾ oz corn, canned, drained
2 avocado
2-4 jalapenos
½ cucumber
½ red onion
1 tomato

SALAD DRESSING INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp EVOO
2 tbsp Vegenaise (or regular mayo for the non-vegans)
½ tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp cilantro
¼ tsp cumin
1 dried chipotle pepper, deseeded, finely diced

There’s a certain amount of predictability in life, and as a kid, one of the more predictable things in our house was what we would be eating for Sunday dinner. Unlike the tradition of many families to cook a huge meal on Sunday, I can only guess my dad saw Sunday evenings much like I do today: the beginning of the work week. For that reason, we always ate something simple on Sundays, and on many a Sunday evening I recall sitting in front of 60 Minutes and eating something my dad called the “super salad”. The super salad was always different, but the concept the same – it was a big-ass salad that filled you up just as much as pork chops and potatoes would. Today, I make a super salad once a month or so in the colder months and more often in the summer.

The inspiration for this super salad is a salad I often order at Chipotle. I love Chipotle for many reasons, but at the top of the list is their use of fresh organic vegetables that they prepare by hand daily (their meat is all hormone-free and free-range too!). At times, eating a burrito from Chipotle is like trying to eat a compact car – they’re huge! This is why when I go Chipotle I have them make a salad.

Though incredibly quick and easy to make, this salad is far from boring. Full of crunch and heat and spice, the avocado and creamy vinaigrette dressing with the smoky essence from the chipotle pepper work to cool down your palate just enough so you can take another bite.

Make this recipe on a night when you really wanna just order out or sit on the sofa with your hand in the cereal box. This salad’s delicious, nutritious, and you’ll be done making it so fast you’ll think you’re Speedy Gonzales.

QUICK AND DIRTY

Wash, dry, and chop romaine and place in a large salad bowl. Dice tomato, cucumber, and red onion and add to salad.

Top with sliced jalapeno, removing none, some, or all of the seeds to control the degree of heat you want in your salad.

Add drained corn, and top with avocado, sliced lengthwise.

For the dressing, combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl, and whisk until blended.



ROOKIE COOKIES

The difficulty in this salad is all about learning how to cut and prepare different types of fresh vegetables, something that you might not have learned how to do unless you’ve been in food service or really spent some time watching someone in the kitchen. Below I’ll explain how to prepare each vegetable for this salad, using different techniques.

Wash, dry, and chop romaine and place in a large salad bowl.

How to wash & chop lettuce:
There’s many different ways you can buy romaine lettuce – from its most natural form, a head of lettuce, to washed and trimmed hearts of romaine, to a bag of pre-cut and pre-washed romaine. IMO, bagged lettuce is cheating, but that’s just me ;)


When preparing “real” lettuce, you’re going to want to give it a wash and dry before cutting it. Why dry? Because if you don’t, your salad dressing won’t stick, it will be watered down, and the salad won’t keep even if sealed in the fridge because of the high moisture content (moisture breaks down organic material). To give your lettuce a proper wash, you can either:


1. Detach the leaves at the base, rinse under cold water, gently rubbing each leaf to dislodge dirt, and place in a salad spinner to dry; or
2. Detach the leaves at the base, dampen a clean towel, and gently wipe each leaf to rid it of dirt and debris. This method doesn’t require drying.


After washed and dried, chop the lettuce into 2-3” strips by grasping a whole handful of leaves (all facing the same direction) and beginning at the tip of the leaves. The tighter you grasp the lettuce, the easier and cleaner of a cut you will make through all the leaves.

Dice tomato, cucumber, and red onion and add to salad.

Prior to any cutting or dicing, rinse all vegetables under cold water and lightly scrub with a vegetable brush. Pat dry.


How to dice cucumber:
1. To dice a cucumber, first cut it in half lengthwise with a large chef’s knife. You should now have two halves that look like canoes.
2. Next, run your knife down the center of each half, again lengthwise, so the cucumber is cut into 4 quarters. If you want your slices smaller, do this again.
3. Reconstruct the cucumber (putting the pieces back together), and hold tightly while chopping width-wise into half-inch pieces.


How to dice tomato:
For this salad we’re going to use a single large tomato, but you could just as easily use grape tomatoes or sliced Roma tomatoes.


1. First, slice off the tomato stem and discard.
2. Next, slice the tomato in half width-wise (at what would be its equator).
3. Hold over a bowl or the trash and gently squeeze each half, removing the seeds and any extra liquid.
4. Holding your hand over the dome of one half of the tomato, slice the tomato from left to right into half-inch strips, keeping the slices together so even when sliced it forms a dome.
5. Then, repeat this slicing from top to bottom – your tomato is now diced in semi-uniform pieces.
6. Repeat horizontal and vertical slicing with the other half.


As you get more confident with this, you can also cut the tomato on its tropic of cancer and tropic of capricorn prior to cutting each half into strips. This will make your diced pieces even smaller.


How to dice onion:
Dicing an onion can be tricky at first but really satisfying once you get the hang of it:


1. First, with the peel intact, slice off the stem and make another similarly-sized slice at the opposite end of the onion. Discard.
2. Next, chop the onion in half lengthwise (your knife’s cut should connect both ends you just removed). Remove the peel (how easy was that?!).
3. With one half of the onion, place on chopping board so that the cut-off ends are to your left and right. Slice the onion from left to right into half-inch strips, keeping the slices together so even when sliced it forms a dome.
4. Then, repeat this slicing from top to bottom.
5. Repeat horizontal and vertical slicing with the other half.

Top with sliced jalapeno, removing none, some, or all of the seeds to control the degree of heat you want in your salad.

How to cut jalapeno:
1. Cut the stems off the jalapeno.
2. Cut each jalapeno width-wise into quarter-inch “rings”.

Add drained corn, and top with avocado, sliced lengthwise.

How to de-seed & slice avocado:
An avocado contains a large seed the size of a golf ball in the center of the most bulbous part of the fruit.


1. Remove the seed by slicing the avocado in half, length-wise. When your knife hits the pit, rotate the avocado to continue the cut all the way around the pit until you reach where you began the slice.
2. Hold each length-wise half in a hand, and twist the halves until they separate. The seed will remain in one half of the avocado.
3. To remove the seed, either use a spoon to scoop it out or slightly whack it with a sharp knife so that the blade becomes stuck and leverage the knife to twist the seed out. Discard the seed.
4. With a half on the cutting board (flesh-side up), make 3 lengthwise slices. Repeat with other half.
5. Gently remove the sliced flesh from the skin.



For the dressing, combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl, and whisk until blended.



TIPS & JUSTIFICATIONS

I love spice, and this salad is certainly a reflection of that. It’s been said that eating spicy foods is good for weight control. While some claim it raises the metabolism (I don’t know about all that), others indicate that the “full” signal is triggered faster when you eat spicy foods, which causes you to eat less volume and still be satisfied.

For me, it’s all about the combination of hot and cold. While I put all four jalapenos (with all their seeds) in this salad, I include the creamy dressing (instead of a typical vinaigrette) and avocado to cool down the spice. The addition of these two ingredients doesn’t really make the salad any less spicy, but the coolness of the ingredients tricks your taste buds into somehow being okay with it.

Avocado is one of my favorite fruits to use in salads! It has a creamy, buttery taste and is full of “good” fat. Before using an avocado, you’ll want to ensure the fruit is ripe. Under-ripe, an avocado will be very firm and have little taste. Over-ripe, the flesh of an avocado will start to turn from green to brown and be very mushy. To find out if your avocado is ripe, give it a gentle squeeze. When an avocado is ripe, you should be able to leave a slight indentation with your thumb, but the avocado should still be firm.

When buying an avocado, it’s more than likely not going to be ripe. Letting it sit in a fruit bowl for a few days should do the trick, or if you need it to ripen quicker (in a day), place it in a brown paper bag that’s been folded shut and place on the counter. Conversely, if you have a ripe avocado you’re not going to use for a few days, toss it on the fridge, where it should keep for up to a week.

While I wrote this recipe vegan, I actually ate it vegetarian – adding a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese. Adding these two ingredients makes me feel like I’m truly eating a burrito in salad form. Plus, I really could have gone with the seeds of two jalapenos instead of four (aye-yi-yi!), so the sour cream and cheese helped cool down the spice even more.




I hope you enjoy this super salad - olay!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Baked Acorn Squash with Chipotle Rice & Beans (vegan)



Acorn squash has a nutty flavor that pairs wonderfully with the smoky flavor of the chipotle pepper, making this a perfect dish for winter.

INGREDIENTS
½ cup brown basmati rice
1 cup water
15 oz cooked black beans, drained
15 oz cooked garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained
1 dried chipotle pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch sea salt
2 acorn squash
1 ½ tbsp EVOO
1tbsp raw granulated sugar
½ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened

QUICK AND DIRTY

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine ½ cup brown basmati rice with 1 c water and ½ tbsp EVOO. Chop 1 dried chipotle pepper very fine and add to rice. Add 1 tsp cayenne pepper. Turn heat on high and bring to a boil. Stir, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 50 minutes. Set aside covered for 5-10 minutes.

Cut acorn squash in half and remove seeds. Brush with 1 tbsp EVOO. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp raw granulated sugar, and place in 450-degree oven – bake for 40 minutes. Remove, and cool on a rack for 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

When squash is cool to the touch, scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Mash with the tiniest pinch of sea salt, and place in bottom of a baking dish.

Combine rice, black beans, and garbanzo beans. Spread over squash. Top with shredded coconut, and place in 350-degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until coconut is toasted but not burnt.

Remove and cool for 5 minutes before serving.



ROOKIE COOKIES

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

How to cook rice:

You don’t need a fancy Hello Kitty rice cooker to cook rice – it’s just as easy to prepare it on the stove, but there are a few things to keep in mind when cooking rice:

1. In general, the proportions for cooking most rice are 1 part rice to 2 parts water (or broth). If you want to end up with 1-1½ cups of rice, you will cook ½ cup rice in 1 cup liquid.

2. Always add a little fat, preferably EVOO, so the rice doesn’t stick to itself or the bottom of the pot (which will cause it to burn into a pot-shaped plastic-looking mess).

3. The most important thing to remember with cooking rice is that once you put the lid on the pot, don’t you dare take it off until the timer goes off! Removing the lid releases steam, which would have otherwise absorbed into your rice, making your rice hard – and if you remove the lid more than once accidentally, the rice simply won’t cook. DON’T TOUCH THE TRIM! And by “trim”, I mean lid.

Combine ½ cup brown basmati rice with 1 c water and ½ tbsp EVOO. Chop 1 dried chipotle pepper very fine and add to rice. Add 1 tsp cayenne pepper. Turn heat on high and bring to a boil. Stir, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 50 minutes. Set aside covered for 5-10 minutes.



How to prepare acorn squash:

Squash can be intimidating, but it’s a wonderfully fleshy vegetable that’s hearty and can be prepared many ways and take on many textures. When preparing to bake acorn squash, you need the right tools:

1. A large, sharp chef’s knife; and

2. A spoon

**Read this part first to learn how to cut squash, but perform the actions in the paragraph below this one first.** Squash is hard, and when attempting to cut a squash in half for the first time, you may swear you’ve stuck your knife into a rock. Instead of sawing back and forth, it’s easiest to wiggle the knife in the center (separating the squash horizontally) and then apply pressure downward in a swift motion to make a clean cut, separating the squash in half.

Prior to cutting the squash in half, you’re going to want to slice a thin amount of the squash off at each of pole so that when you are laying the halved squash on the baking sheet it sits still and doesn’t roll around (think of the stem as the North Pole).



When squash is cut, remove seeds with a spoon.



Cut acorn squash in half and remove seeds. Brush with 1 tbsp EVOO. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp raw granulated sugar, and place in 450-degree oven – bake for 40 minutes.



Remove, and cool on a rack for 10 minutes.



Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

When squash is cool to the touch, scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Mash with the tiniest pinch of sea salt, and place in bottom of a baking dish.



Combine rice, black beans, and garbanzo beans. Spread over squash. Top with shredded coconut, and place in 350-degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until coconut is toasted but not burnt.

Remove and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

TIPS & JUSTIFICATIONS
I’ve been playing around with several incarnations of this recipe for the past two years. The first incarnation of this recipe was stuffed acorn squash with black beans and rice that I made for Thanksgiving when I was hosting several vegetarians and a vegan. In that version, after baked, the squash is left intact, stuffed with a mixture of red beans and rice, and baked again.

This recipe is vegan as it’s listed, but it can be done in many different ways, including a favorite of mine where you swap out the current acorn “wash” (raw granulated sugar and EVOO) for butter and honey. Mmmm…

Acorn squash has a nutty flavor that pairs wonderfully with the smoky flavor of the chipotle pepper, making this a perfect dish for winter. You can also make this recipe without the chipotle pepper, or you can play around with different types of peppers. You can also try different types of squash. Be creative!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Spinach Pie with Double Pale Ale Crust (vegetarian)

Oh, the holidays – how I both love and hate them. Eleven days off work were spent pigging out on home-made mac-n-cheese and Ghirardelli peppermint bark. After that, I knew I needed to get back on the wagon and prepare something healthy that I could eat from during my first (long) week back at work.

It’s been freakishly cold here in Baltimore this winter, so I was in the mood for something dense and hearty to eat for dinner – kinda like quiche, hot and filling, but less eggy. Tonight I finished the second to last piece of what I came up with: spinach pie.




PIE INGREDIENTS:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 10-oz bags fresh spinach
2 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Crushed Garlic (in a jar)
1 small yellow (cooking) onion
½ cup vegetable broth
½ cup sour cream
1 16-oz container low-fat ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste

CRUST INGREDIENTS:
3 to 3 ½ cups all-purpose wheat flour
1 stick butter, melted (or ¼ cup ghee)
¼ bottle Flying Dog Double Dog beer

INSTRUCTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the beer crust, add melted butter to flour. Slowly add enough beer to make dough that’s firm and somewhat dry. Roll the dough and place in a pie plate. Set aside.

To make the filling, add 2 tbsp EVOO to a wok or other large frying pan and turn heat to medium (I’m a sloppy bitch, so using a wok makes cleanup easier for me). Add chopped onion and garlic paste, sautéing until onion just turns clear and being careful not to burn garlic. Add several tablespoons veggie stock and cover with several handfuls of spinach. Using tongs, toss, turning over wilted spinach and adding more fresh spinach and enough veggie stock to create steam (which wilts the spinach) until both bags of spinach have been wilted and mixed will with the onions and garlic. Turn off heat and place spinach in a strainer, getting rid of the excess liquid (don’t smoosh the spinach – just allow the liquid to drain naturally).

Return spinach to the wok and add a pinch of salt and pepper, each. Fold in sour cream and ricotta cheese. Next, beat eggs and add to spinach mixture. Mix that thoroughly and place in pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, checking center of pie at 45 minutes and every 5 minutes after until a toothpick comes out clear.

Cool for 5 minutes before serving.



TIPS AND JUSTIFICATIONS:
Even without adding much veggie stock, wilted spinach can get watery, which is disastrous for a pie like this. I actually forgot to drain my spinach before adding the sour cream and cheese, so I added two handfuls of breadcrumbs to soak up some of the moisture while the pie cooked. I could have also added another egg in an attempt to hold the mixture together, but like I said earlier, I wasn’t looking to make spinach quiche – I was looking to make spinach pie.

I got the idea for this crust from my friend, John, who had me make something similar (with ghee) to be used as the dough for samosas we were preparing for his annual Indian dinner feast. Ghee is used in Indian cooking – it’s simply liquefied clarified butter. The hoppy flavor of the pale ale John had me add to the dough really brought out the flavor of the vegetables in the samosas, which gave me the idea to use it in this pie. Since my fridge is always stocked with Flying Dog, I grabbed one of their hoppiest brews: Double Dog – a double-the-hops dark pale ale. Flying Dog Ales is a mid-size brewery about 2 hours outside Baltimore. Not only are their beers amazingly flavorful and plastered in very cool Ralph Steadman art, but they’re also the exclusive beer sponsor of my roller derby league (for which I manage sponsorship). And since this pie was made with Flying Dog beer, I guess you could say this pie was made with the Gonzo spirit!

This pie should keep in the fridge, covered, for one week. Pies like this tend to absorb the flavors of other items in your fridge more than some other foods might, so be sure the pie is as airtight as possible to retain the integrity of the flavors.

Not only is spinach the third richest source for beta carotene, but it also contains many of the B vitamins that keep us ladies sane during PMS time, vitamin E, and vitamin K. And as if that isn’t enough of a reason to eat the green leafy stuff, maybe you’ll take a hint from a hot sailor: “I’m strong to the finish when I eats me spinach – I Popeye the sailor man!”

The Meat & Potatoes Vegetarian

My name is Tara (aka, Cindy Lop-her, OG rollergirl from Charm City). Playing a competitive sport as an adult has changed the way I think and feel about my body. It’s not just an outside reflection of who I am, but it’s also a machine for life, for laughter, and for love. Most people take better care of their car than they do themselves, and it’s not surprising given our upbringing. We live in a society of mass consumption, where we treat our bodies as poorly as we treat our credit scores (and where we check our credit scores more often than our health!).

After years of dieting, I gave up, and against what I thought was my better judgment at the time, I decided to sit down and look at food in a way I never had before. I’m part of the margarine generation - if it was labeled low-fat my parents bought it - yet fake spray butter scares the hell out of me. The only thing that seemed “right” to me (aka, the least detrimental to my quitting dieting) was eating whole foods and limiting my consumption of processed foods to one item per day. Surprisingly, I lost 20 pounds when I quit dieting. Go figure.

I love to cook. As a kid I grew up watching my dad make dinner every night, my mom asking him if he wrote down what he did this time so he’d remember to do it again, and him explaining once more how cooking’s an art and no two recipes should ever be followed twice. This daddy’s girl has followed in her father’s footsteps, and with an outright refusal to follow recipes, I’ve relied on my taste buds and instinct to create hundreds of delicious meals and dishes over the past 12 years.

Previously a whatevertarian, I’ve recently become disappointed with the quality meat and fish at all my local stores and markets, and I refuse to pay through the nose at those specialty grocers, so I thought I’d give more alternative sources of protein a whirl: beans and the like. This paired with my increased inability to ignore where my food comes from and how the animals are treated gave me the idea to challenge myself by learning to cook vegetarian or vegan (without my partner noticing or complaining he isn’t eating meat).

A die-hard meat and potatoes girl, I became frustrated with the vegetarian and vegan cookbooks at my local bookstores – the meals were either not substantive enough for my taste or the ingredients were impossible to find. This is when I decided I’d again say “Fuck it” to the manuals and take the principles of cooking I’ve learned through trial and error and apply them to making clean vegetarian or vegan meals, hence The Meat & Potatoes Vegetarian.

We live in a society that values fast over slow, quantity over quality, and now over later, and the results we get from living this lifestyle through food perpetuate the cycle of our wanting a quick fix that doesn’t exist. It’s time to get back to basics, people. Use your head and think about the consequences of your actions – they not only impact others and future generations, but they also impact your quality of life every minute of every day. What would you do if you had more energy? What dreams could you make a reality if you’re not always fixated on feeling like crap? What would you be free to do if you were satisfied with your body?

This blog combines my seething disgust with consumerism and my presence of mind with my love of cooking (and eating!). Every recipe I post on this site will be proprietary, in that I put the ingredients together because I thought they would taste good, not because I read that they should be put together from a book or the internet. Some dishes will be good, some will be bad. Such is life. I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I’m sure I will, and I hope you can find the time and the presence of mind to do something good for yourself as well. LET’S EAT!