Super Food: the case for sardines

We’ve all heard the term “super foods” being thrown around a lot lately – it seems there’s a new one every week. Something exotic, often expensive and difficult to find, but that without incorporating into your daily diet, you will most certainly die of a rare disease by your early 20’s. If you’re older than that, then you are actually already dead for lack of pomegranate seeds.

But today I want to make a case for a super food that’s a little less pedantic: the humble, lowly sardine.

Sardine Superfood

Sardine Superfood

The sardine is a super food for many reasons, but for me the primary reason is its accessibility and cost. A good tin of sardines is available at nearly every grocery store for less than $3. Sardines, which are actually not a type of fish, but rather a way of curing and packing fish, are often brisling – a small, Norwegian fish. These fish are packed full of Omega-3’s, which I’ve talked about before, but to review, Omega-3’s reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation being a major source of illness from high blood pressure to heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and more.  Omega-3’s are not something our bodies naturally produce – they must be consumed through diet. Yes, you can take a supplement, but remember supplements are meant to do just that – supplement a healthy diet, not replace it. In fact many vitamins and nutrients are not naturally absorbed by our bodies in pill or liquid form, such a calcium, which can only be absorbed if we are taking in the proper amount of Vitamin D through diet and outdoor exercise. I could go on here, but the point is – eat to be healthy, supplement if you must, but understand that food is always the best medicine when taken correctly.

In addition to being chock full of those Omegas, sardines are full of calcium – they are actually one of the highest non-dairy calcium foods around (because of their soft, edible bones, but don’t let that scare you away – I promise you do not notice the bones.) Sardines contain loads of protein, vitamin D and are sustainable (they’re not over-fished) and for those concerned about their fish intake – sardines have a lowest amount of mercury of just about any fish you can buy because they are at the bottom of the food chain. The bigger the fish, the higher the mercury level.

So here’s a great introductory recipe to sardines – Jeremy and I made this for breakfast on Sunday and it kept us full for HOURS. We didn’t eat again until 3pm that afternoon. And just one more note – sardines equal anchovies. Anchovies are smelly, oily and fishy. This doesn’t keep me from loving them, but if it keeps you from loving them, do not be scared of sardines – they are nothing alike except that they both come in a tin. Sardines are actually much more mild, like tuna.

Fisherman’s Breakfast

Fishermen's Breakfast

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 small red potatoes, cut into small cubes
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tin of sardines
  • 4 large eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • toast or bread

fisherman breakfast ingredients

Method:

  1. Preheat Oven to 500 degrees. Place an ovenproof dish into the oven for 5 minutes to pre-heat.
  2. Combine the diced potatoes, shallots, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper in a small bowl, then from the an open tin of sardines, pour a teaspoon or so of the oil the sardines are packed in into the bowl. Mix to combine.
  3. Remove the dish from the oven, carefully, spray with nonstick cooking spray or oil and spread the potato shallot mixture into the bottom of the dish. Top the mixture with the sardines from the tin. Place back into the oven for 6 minutes.
  4. Remove the dish from oven and gently crack and pour all four eggs on top of the mixture. Season with more salt and pepper. Put back in the oven for 6-7 minutes until the white are set, but yolks are still a bit jiggly.
  5. Remove dish from oven and let sit for 2-3 minutes to let the eggs set. Serve with bread or toast and extra pepper.serve with crusty bread or toast
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The resourceful cook

Jeremy once told me that I was the most resourceful cook he knows. This is because I never start a meal plan for the week by deciding what I want to make, then writing down ingredients. Instead, I go to the pantry, freezer or fridge, see what random left overs or items we have, then plan our meals around that. Because most of what I cook is done without recipes, this works for me. And that’s the beauty of learning techniques versus recipes. If you know how to make a basic cream sauce, or the components of a risotto or the technique of braising meats, then you don’t need recipes. What I find to be most important is the concept of ratio. So if you know that a basic risotto calls for 1 part rice to 4 parts liquid, then you’re fine, and you can experiment to your hearts’ content without worrying about if the rice is going to dry up or if it’s going to be too soupy.

So this past week we had some kind of random things sitting around. First off, my sage plant has exploded this fall, so I wanted to use some fresh sage. I also had a huge bag of pistachios left over from camping and a half of a container of Parmesan….some of you know where this is going already: pesto! Pistachio-Sage pesto. Because, once again, if you know the basic components of pesto (basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil) you can swap each of those ingredients out for something similar (sage, Parmesan, pistachios, olive oil). I also had a huge FIVE POUND bag of quinoa that I got at Costco the other day, as well as a side of salmon that I had cut down into fillets and frozen. Finally there was a random butternut squash that I had picked up at a farm and sort of neglected.

fall dinner

I wanted to experiment with the idea of quinoa risotto. Normally risotto is made with Arborio rice, a super short-grain rice that cooks almost like a pasta. It’s cooked slowly, adding small amounts of liquid, which are then absorbed before adding more, and of course – stirring the entire time. Quinoa is also a grain and is …. not “short” but small, let’s say. I wasn’t sure if it would cream up like Arborio, which slowly releases its starch as it cooks, creating its own creamy sauce when combined with water, broth, wine, etc. But I figured it was worth a try.

The whole meal came together like this:

Step 1: fall dinner squash
Pre-head the oven to 375 F. Peel and cut the butternut squash into 1/2″ thick slices, brush with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, then lay out on a baking sheet and roast while putting together the rest of the meal. I only used about 1/4 of the squash (I made the rest of it into soup – resourceful!)

Step 2: 
Make the pesto by combining 1/4 cup of pistachios (shelled) with a palm full of Parmesan, a hearty bunch of sage (chopped), the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse the ingredients while drizzing olive oil through the top until a nice thick paste forms.

Step 3:
Make the risotto. Start with a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add a few cloves of minced garlic and half of an onion, diced small; cook until soft. Add one cup of diced mushrooms and a

fall dinner quinoalittle lemon zest and saute until soft. Add in one cup of quinoa (or Arborio rice) and toast the quinoa until it starts to brown. Pour in half a cup of chicken broth and use this to deglaze the pan, and stir until it is absorbed. Continue to add half a cup of broth at a time, stirring until absorbed until you’ve reached the consistency you want. You’ll likely use less liquid than you would with a true risotto. I used about two cups of broth to one cup of quinoa. It will take about 15-20 minutes to get the quinoa cooked through. You know when quinoa is cooked because the grain sort of pops open. It’s impossible to describe, but immediately obvious when it happens. When the risotto is close to being done, within the last few minutes, add the juice of half a lemon and a large spoonful of the pesto and stir in.

Step 4:
About 10 minutes before the risotto is done, coat some salmon fillets with your pesto and put on a baking sheet in the oven with your squash. Bake the salmon for 10 minutes of until it flakes easily with a fork.

Step 5:
Serve it up! Top the risotto with a little more Parmesan and top your salmon with a bit more pesto. Your squash should be a little crispy on the outside and cooked through on the inside from roasting. Serve with a lemon wedge to brighten up the salmon and risotto.
fall dinner plate

Step 6:
Enjoy. And use these steps to make something completely different – based on whatever you have on hand.

fall dinner fork

Dried strawberries

It’s strawberry season in Hampton Roads, and that is major. We love our strawberries around here. Every city in the region that has farms has pick-your-own strawberry fields and it’s a tradition for kids and adults alike to pick strawberries on field trips or on Mother’s Day or Memorial Day weekend when Virginia Beach hosts the Strawberry Festival.

Last week I got an email from a farm saying that they had so many berries in their field that they were going to be offering pick your own berries for $1.25/lb. That is unheard of. You would never ever find berries that cheap in the grocery store. So after sharing it with the Buy Fresh Buy Local Facebook fans, I got in the car and headed to the farm, which thankfully, is only about 10 minutes from my house. Yeah, it was a week day. Yeah, I had a lot of work to do, but sometimes you just have to get up and go pick strawberries. All that work will be there for you when you get back, I promise.

If you’ve never picked strawberries, it’s very easy – they are literally low hanging fruit. When they’re ripe, they get so heavy they just sort of dangle below the leaves and pretty white flowers of their plant. And they pop right off their stems and get tossed right into your strawberry carrying device. The only issue is that if you have a bad back like I do, you may be in a bit of pain the next day (like I was), but that’s why you bring your kids – to do the hard work of bending over and finding the ripest strawberries. When picking, look for deep, red berries. Before plucking them off the plant, lift them up and make sure the underside isn’t white or green (unripe) or that it hasn’t been noshed on by any bugs.

Sometimes you just have to leave your desk and go pick strawberries.

Sometimes you just have to leave your desk and go pick strawberries.

So what to do with 10 lbs of berries once you get them home? Most people I know make strawberry bread, pie, muffins, etc etc. We all know how I feel about baking, so I do one of (or all of) three different thing:

1. Eat them. Duh.

2. Freeze them. Rinse and dry the berries, cut off the caps and then halve each berry and lay in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer for several hours, then put the berries into a freezer ziploc bag. Pull out what you need, when you need it. I freeze pounds and pounds of berries like this every year to use in my smoothies all year long.

3. Dry them. Dried berries are sort of like craisins – tart, but still a little sweet. Perfect in salads, on yogurt or oatmeal, granola, etc. Wash and dry the berries, cut off the caps and halve each berry. Lay in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 210 degrees for 3 hours. Let them cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the fridge OR you could freeze these also and just thaw them as you need them. I’m not sure exactly how long they’ll keep in the fridge….you’ve probably got about a week?

Dried Strawberries

Dried Strawberries

Strawberries are pretty amazing little fruits. One cup of berries has only 49 calories and almost 150% of your daily Vitamin C. They also have fiber and protein and good amounts of folates and potassium as well as manganese.

So get out there and pick some today. Or, make your kids do it. Also, can I borrow your kids for an afternoon?

Kefir

A few weeks ago I saw an interesting item come up on my online local food co-op, Coastal Farms. Jen Vaughan, of Vaughan Farms Produce, had posted that she had some extra kefir grains, and was selling them, along with a mason jar and some instructions on what to do with them.  I was intrigued, so I did a little research and it turns out that kefir grains are not actually grains, but rather a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria. Yummy! When brewed, they ferment (just like beer or wine) and create an active probiotic culture (just like yogurt). Kefir is probably most well known as a yogurt type of product or kefir milk, but it turns out you can also brew kefir into “kefir water” which is sort of a sparkling-like fermented beverage. The fizziness of it comes from the fermentation and can be adjusted based on how much air is allowed in during the process. The whole process and product is very similar to Kombucha, which is probably a little more well recognized.

Kefir grains and my first kefir water batch

Kefir grains and my first kefir water batch

I ordered my first batch and got to brewing! Jen had a few great suggestions for recipes to give the water flavor. Plain kefir water isn’t exactly delicious, so it’s recommended that you mix it with flavorings, which can range from green tea to juice to vanilla extract, depending on how you want it to taste. For my first batch I did a green tea flavoring, then I followed that with a cream soda style flavor and now I am on to a citrusy grapefruit juice. The process is simple:

1. Dissolve 1/4 cup of raw, brown sugar (I’m using raw demerara sugar) in 1 quart of distilled water (or spring or mineral water, according to the interwebs) in a container with a lid (I used the 1 quart mason jar Jen provided). Make sure the water is room temp and not hot – that will kill the grains. Drop in a raisin or two (they will be your ‘tell’) and a lemon slice if you have one (helps with the Ph). Put in three tablespoons of kefir grains. Put the container with the lid just set on top – not screwed on, in a warm place out of direct sunlight. For me, this was on top of my fridge.

2. When the raisins have floated to the top of the water, usually 2-3 days, the water is done “brewing.” Remove the lemon slice and raisins, then strain the water through a fine sieve. Here’s the trick – kefir doesn’t like metal – you have to use glass or plastic or in my case, I just put a paper towel on my metal sieve and strain it that way. Cheesecloth would also work, if I could find it anywhere, ever. Put your kefir grains back into your mason jar or container and start again with 1 quart of water and 1/4 cup of sugar, raisins, lemon, etc – the grains can pretty much be brewed indefinitely.

I strain the kefir through a paper towel lined sieve since metal can kill the grains

I strain the kefir through a paper towel lined sieve since metal can kill the grains

 

3. Take your strained kefir water and add your preferred flavorings. Here is what I’ve tried:

  • 1 part very strongly brewed green tea to 1 part kefir water.
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract and an extra 1/4 cup raw sugar (creates a cream soda style water)
  • 1 part grapefruit juice to 1 part kefir water, one sliced lemon, one sliced lime

Once you’ve added your flavors, put it through a second fermentation – so put it back in another container with a lid just resting on top in a warm place out of sunlight for about 2 more days. At this point, if you’ve added things (like lemon and lime slices) strain it again and then bottle it up and put it in the fridge. The water will last as long as whatever you’ve brewed it with would. So however long you’d leave a pitcher of brewed tea in your fridge is how long you can leave the kefir water brew in there and it will be fine. Keep repeating the process with your other fermenting batch and you can have indefinite kefir water!

my first taste!

my first taste!

There are innumerable ways to prepare and brew your kefir water and also tons of sites online where you can purchase the grains. I found this site particularly helpful: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/water-kefir-frequently-asked-questions-faq

I have noticed that since I’ve been drinking the water every day, my stomach issues have decreased some. It’s like I’m drinking my probiotic pills (which I also continue to take) and it certainly can’t hurt to get as much good bacteria going as possible. If you suffer from any kind of intestinal issues, or even if you don’t – I would really recommend giving this a try. The fizziness is nice without being too much (I hate soda and carbonated beverages, but this is the perfect amount of fizz for me), and the flexibility of flavorings is really nice. And because the grains basically feed on the sugar in the brewing process, the overall sugar content of kefir water is much, much lower than you would imagine based on how much you put in at the beginning. According to CulturesforHealth.com “approximately 20% of the sugar you start with will remain following a 48- hour culturing process and almost all that sugar will have been converted to fructose from its original glucose-fructose state.  Therefore if you use our recommend ratio of 1/4 cup sugar to 1 quart water, the finished kefir will contain approximately 1.4% fructose.” That’s pretty low – much lower than fruit juice, juice cocktails and certainly less than soda.

So give something different a try! Love the good bacteria!

strained kefir grains

strained kefir grains

Shrimp Ceviche Saturday

I’m on my own this Saturday night and whenever that happens I like to make myself something special. Usually that means a giant wheel of Brie and a bottle of wine but since I’m cutting back on the cheese I decided to do something a little more “clean.” I accidentally bought pre-cooked shrimp at the grocery store the other day (instead of raw) – this is my problem with the grocery store. I want to get out of there so bad that I just blindly grab things that look right. I’m the worst grocery shopper ever. I usually only come home with half of what I need because I hate it so bad. It’s a conundrum to love to cook but to hate to shop for food. Oh well. Crosses to bear and all that. Anyways! Shrimp ceviche it is! It just sounded perfect. And it is. And easy. And there’s really no “cooking” involved. Cheers!

20130316-202832.jpg

Shrimp ceviche

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion, diced small
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • the juice of two limes
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced small
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, each tomato quartered
  • 1 lb large, cooked, deveined shrimp
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Dice red onion and put into a bowl with the lime juice, season lightly with salt and pepper and let marinate at least 5 minutes 
  2. Dice the avocado, jalapeno, cucumber, tomatoes and add to bowl with onions
  3. Peel the shrimp and cut into three pieces per each shrimp – add to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients, mix well. Stir in the cilantro. Serve in martini glasses at room temperature or chilled.
Shrimp Ceviche

Shrimp Ceviche

Ceviche is a general term for any seafood dish, where the seafood is “cooked” by curing in an acidic  marinade, usually primarily made of lime juice or tomato juice. I can’t recommend to you that you use raw shrimp in ceviche unless you are getting it fresh off the boat, straight from the water and are curing it within half on hour of picking  it up. Fish is a little different, but with shrimp, just be careful.

This dish is so light and delicious and pairs perfectly with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. So light and delicious, in fact, that before you know it, you’ve eaten an entire bowl of Ceviche and 3/4 a bottle of wine . . . although, to be fair, I only made half of this recipe. And to be perfectly honest, I drank the entire bottle of wine. What? It’s St. Patrick’s day weekend, give me break. Ceviche, take me away!

Pantry Raid IV: better bulgur

Bulgur sounds gross, and I get that. But it’s really not. Bulgur is parboiled cracked wheat berries. It’s a super whole grain with a wonderful nutty taste. It also has a great texture that I can only describe as “toothsome.” It isn’t hard, but even after being soaked, it has tooth –  like very good al dente pasta. Just one cup of bulgur has over 25 grams of fiber and over 17 grams of protein. And incidentally, I had a huge bag of it in my cabinet that I needed to start working on getting rid of.

Bulgar, like quinoa, is a great base for salads. This bugar salad recipe came from Everyday Food, and it’s really light and delicious and keeps well. Make it at the beginning of the week, measure it out into individual containers and then grab them for a healthy lunch on the go. This recipe makes a lot – like most grains, just one cup, once cooked, makes a huge amount of food and because it is high in fiber and protein, you don’t need to eat much to get full. I made this salad for dinner with a yummy marinated salmon and still had enough left over for lunch several days that week. This salad also incorporates chick peas (or Garbanzo beans – whichever name you prefer). Chick peas are also full of protein, so you really can’t go wrong here. Leave out the feta for a (still delicious) Vegan side dish.

Bulgur and Chick Pea Salad

bulgar with salmon close

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta (2 ounces)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine bulgur with boiling water. Cover and let stand 20 minutes; drain and return to bowl. Rinse and drain chickpeas, then add to bowl with lemon zest and juice, olive oil, dill, and feta; season with salt and pepper.

For the salmon, I combined a little olive oil, a dash of white wine vinegar, the juice of half of a lemon, some dill, salt and pepper and put the salmon into some tin foil, made a pouch, poured the marinade over the salmon, wrapped it up really good and baked at 375 for about 15 minutes. It was perfect together and it would be a crime to eat this meal without a glass of good Chardonnay. So don’t let the name throw you off, replace that pasta side dish with a healthier bulgur alternative.

If you eat this without a glass of Chardonnay, you are committing a crime against food.

If you eat this without a glass of Chardonnay, you are committing a crime against food.

The possibilities here are endless – Greek bulgar salad with grilled chicken, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes and kalamata olives; bulgar and lentil salad with grapefruit vinaigrette, breakfast bulgar with maple syrup and baked apples . . . OK, I’m starting to sound like a bulgur growing Bubba from Forrest Gump. You get the picture.

Puttanesca party in my mouth

Every Sunday when I put together our meal plans for the week, I ask Jeremy if he wants anything in particular. For whatever reason, instead of hearing my request for something that he might want specifically,  he always seems to hear “name every kind of food you’ve ever heard of.” I don’t usually make anything he mentions.

But this past week when I asked him, he just said, matter-of-factly “plan ol’ spaghetti.” OK, that I can do. Or can I?…….

I had a recipe from one of my last issues of Everyday Food (the now defunct, monthly, food-only, small-format magazine put together by the people at Martha Stewart – it now lives on as a small insert with her monthly Living magazine) that I really wanted to try. The recipe was for how to make your own basic marinara sauce, then on the back side of the page it had several different add-in combinations that would make your sauce something amazing, beyond basic marinara. Ie – add diced celery, carrots, onions and ground sausage – bam, you’ve got Bolognese.

One of the options was to add three small ingredients: anchovies, kalamata olives, and capers. And bam – Puttanesca.

Puttanesca

Almost everything you need to be Italian. Or at least to make Puttanesca.

Almost everything you need to be Italian. Or at least to make Puttanesca.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 anchovy filets
  • 3 tbs capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 c. pitted kalamata olives, quartered
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes, pureed
  • Pasta of your choice

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan and add the garlic, stirring until fragrant, then add the onion; sautee until very soft, 15 minutes. 
  2. Add the anchovies and mash with the back of a wooden spoon while stirring into the onions. Add the capers, olives and red pepper and cook an additional minute or two, until warmed through.
  3. Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and heat until thickened, 10 minutes or so.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta (I used whole wheat, thin spaghetti) according to the box, but drain it one minute before it’s ‘al dente’ and add the drained pasta into the sauce and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for 2-3 minutes until the pasta is tender and the dish is warmed through. Serve immediately with crusty bread and good olive oil.

And for those of you who don’t normally buy anchovies or don’t use them regularly, you will probably (like me) wonder what you do with the other dozen anchovies in the tin? Well, I researched it and according to many reputable websites, Italians store anchovies, packed in olive oil, on their counters all the time – they don’t even have to be refrigerated because they are so cured. But since I’m an American, I put the left over anchovies into a small glass container, covered with olive oil from the tin and my own, and then put it safely in my refrigerator. Apparently they are totally fine like that for months.  In this case, the fate of these anchovies is already determined for another fantastic recipe I have for tapenade, which I will happily share with you once I create it. It’s probably in my top five favorite things I make. And if you are scared of anchovies – don’t be. What they add is saltiness and oiliness. The flavor is subtle and if I never told you they were in there, you wouldn’t know. Don’t be afraid. Embrace their little, tiny deliciousness.

anchovies will keep,packed in olive oil, for months in the fridge

anchovies will keep,packed in olive oil, for months in the fridge

This dish was amazing. So simple, really, but so flavorful and it filled that desire for “plain ol’ spaghetti” but with a kick in the pants. Good suggestion, Jeremy . . .

 

 

Pantry Raid – Part III

I’m a little bit obsessed with Alton Brown and his show, Good Eats. I have the first two volumes of his Good Eats cookbooks, some DVDs and have seen almost every episode of the show. It’s kind of weird because in many ways, we are completely different cooks. Besides the fact that he is a famous chef and genius….he’s very precise and particular about the way his recipes are made and I’m . . . not. But something about his knowledge base and educational and visual illustrations of how cooking actually works is fascinating to me. After watching a show about cookies you feel like you just finished a course at Le Cordon Bleu….in a good way.

Anyways, he has a recipe for his own chili powder and “cowboy style” chili. This is the kind of chili that was really made out on the range – without beans or corn or potatoes or a lot of fluff. Just meat, stewed with chilies and tomatoes. I made this recipe for the first time a year or so ago, and because I wanted to make my own chili powder, like he does for his, I purchased two different kinds of dried chilies. Not the kind he suggested, because I couldn’t find them, and I’m not a perfectionist like him, but they were similar enough. The problem is, these bags of dried chilies (found in the “International” aisle of your grocery store) are HUGE. You only need about 9-12 chilies to make your powder, which leaves you with about 300 chilies. So, I decided I just needed to make this chili or at least my own chili powder, more often. The truth is, chili powder that is pre-bottled at the grocery store doesn’t really taste like much. It’s usually not very spicy and even if it is, it can lose its flavor quickly. This chili powder is pretty easy to make, and is incredibly flavorful and can be as spicy as you want it, depending on the chilies you use.

AB’s Chili Powder

Dried Chilies

Dried Chilies

Yield: approximately 3/4 cup

Ingredients

  • 3 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • 3 cascabel chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • 3 dried arbol chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Directions

  1. Place all of the chiles and the cumin into a medium nonstick saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, moving the pan around constantly, until you begin to smell the cumin toasting, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside and cool completely.
  2. Once cool, place the chiles and cumin into the carafe of a blender along with the garlic powder, oregano, and paprika. Process until a fine powder is formed. Allow the powder to settle for at least a minute before removing the lid of the carafe. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

I used six Guajillo chilies and three Japones. Usually the bags rate the chilies in spiciness on a 5 chili scale, so you can just purchase whatever heat intensity you prefer.

Once you have your chili powder made, you’re read to make the actual chili. His original recipe calls for a pressure cooker, but you can use a Dutch Oven, it will just take a bit longer. The instructions below are for using a large, cast iron Dutch oven.

AB’s Cowboy Chili

Cowboy Chili

Cowboy Chili

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds stew meat (beef, pork, and/or lamb)
  • 2 teaspoons peanut oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer, preferably a medium ale
  • 1 (16-ounce) container salsa
  • 30 tortilla chips
  • 2 chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the chipotle peppers in adobo)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Directions

  1. Place the meat in a large mixing bowl and toss with the peanut oil and salt. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large, cast iron Dutch Oven over high heat until hot. Add the meat in 3 or 4 batches and brown on all sides, approximately 2 minutes per batch. Once each batch is browned, place the meat in a clean large bowl.
  3. Once all of the meat is browned, add the beer to the pot to deglaze the pot.
  4. Scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the meat back in along with the salsa, tortilla chips, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, tomato paste, chili powder, and ground cumin and stir to combine. Put the lid on top and put into a 375 degree oven for two hours, stirring every thirty minutes. Serve with preferred toppings.
Cowboy Chili

Mmmmm…..chili

This recipe helped me use up a few things in my cabinet: the chilies for the chili powder, some left-over taco shells, which I crushed and used in place of the tortilla chips, a batch of homemade salsa that had been in the freezer since the summer and some chipotle peppers/adobo I had saved in the freezer. I need these more often than you’d think, but I always only need one or two at a time and usually one small can has about 5 or 6 and cost like $3. No point in wasting them – just freeze the remainder of the can and use at will. I also used local, grass-fed beef from Windhaven Farms which, of course, was delicious. Their “stew beef” pack was the perfect type of beef for this.

This chili is serious. It’s not your average American beans and corn and relatively mild type of thing. And don’t get me wrong – I love those kinds of chilis also, but if you want something really hearty and really filling and really classic, this is the way to go. I topped mine with plain, nonfat Greek yogurt (in place of sour cream), sliced green onions and cilantro. Chopped onions would also be nice, or a wedge of lime, or cheese if you want to go all out, although AB swears the only acceptable toppings are onions and cilantro. But again, I’m no perfectionist . . .

 

Pantry Raid

I’ve been on a kick since around the new year to de-clutter the house. We are considering putting our house on the market within the year….or next few months. Not sure yet. In any case, just the thought of it has pushed me into this torrential cleaning-organizing-decluttering-nagging task whirlwind. Incidentally, about a month after I put together the list of things we needed to do, I started reading The Happiness Project, the author of which is just WAY too much like myself, and so reading about all the stuff she did and took on and organized and tackled is just sending me over the edge. Anyways, how that is related to a blog about food is that I realized my pantry and cabinets had become stuffed with items that were not being used, were half-gone, bought for one crazy recipe then never looked at again, etc etc. OR, there were duplicates of stupid things that I always assume I never have, so I always buy at the grocery store, just to come home, open up the spice cabinet to see that I already have two unopened containers of coriander. Great.

We have also recently had two good friends move out of state, and in doing so, they have done meat/liquor/canned food drafts with their friends to get rid of most of their food in their cabinets, because nobody wants to spend time trying to move some jars of peanut butter and a half empty box of crackers. No offense to my friends, but when I move I don’t want to have to get rid of all my food. I just want to eat it.

So I have started a pantry raid project to try and use up all the items in my cabinets. Of which there are many:

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SO MUCH DRIED FRUIT

 

First, I created an inventory of all the food I had in my cabinets, refrigerator, freezer, pantry, etc etc. I did this on paper and also digitally through an app on my iPad. Second, I started researching recipes that used random things or things I had too much of like how I had three containers of oatmeal. Really? Or poppy seeds. Why do I have poppy seeds? Or bags of dried Arbol chilis. It’s all a mystery. Finally, I started implementing the recipes into our weekly meals or other items. My first foray into this was using up some of the oatmeal by making oatmeal breakfast cookies. These are an awesome way to use up odds and ends in your cabinets. They are also super healthy, are dairy, flour and sugar free.

breakfast oatmeal cookies

breakfast oatmeal cookies

Breakfast Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole Ripe Bananas, Mashed Until Creamy
  • ⅓ cups Peanut Butter, Creamy Or Chunky
  • 1/4 cup honey or Agave
  • ⅔ cups Unsweetened Applesauce
  • ¼ cups Vanilla Whey Protein Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoon Butter Extract, Optional
  • 1-½ cup Quick Oatmeal, Uncooked
  • ¼ cups Chopped nuts or seed, Peanuts, cashews, almonds, etc.
  • ¼ cups Chocolate Chips, white chocolate morsels, chopped dried fruit, etc

Method

  1. Preheat heat oven to 350ºF.
  2. In a large bowl, mix mashed banana, peanut butter and honey until completely combined. Then add in the applesauce, vanilla protein powder and vanilla and butter extracts. Mix again until completely combined.
  3. Add in the oatmeal and nuts, morsels or dried fruit to the banana mixture and combine.
  4. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Drop cookie dough, by spoonfuls, onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and flatten cookies into circles, about a 1/3″ thick.
  6. Bake cookies approximately 30 minutes, or until golden brown and done. Remove from oven and let rest on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then move to cooling rack.
  7. When cookies are completely cool, store in a covered container.

I split the batter in half and in half I put diced dried plums, white chocolate morsels and walnuts. In the other half I put chocolate chip and peanut butter morsels, cashews and sunflower seeds. Almost everything in the recipe I had on hand except apple sauce, because I don’t have a four year old in the house . . .

It was a great way for me to use up some half-empty packages of nuts and dried fruit – two things that just seem to multiply in our cabinets. These cookies were great – Jeremy and I had them for breakfast everyday for over a week – the batter makes a pretty good amount. In fact, I think I’ll keep making them every few weeks just to have on hand, especially since it’s really hard to find granola bars at the grocery store that aren’t as bad for you as anything else on the aisle.

Next up: tackling dried chilis, frozen unidentified sausage and wild rice. Stay tuned!

Foodie Friday Freestyle

We usually stay in on Friday nights. We are exciting like that. But one of my favorite things to do on Friday nights is “freestyle” a few small plates with things we have around the house. It’s like iron chef or chopped or something. You can only use things you have in your basket….three to five courses….except without someone berating the hell out of whatever you come up with. So, if it pleases the judge panel….

1. Smoked salmon with fresh dilled cream cheese on pita crackers.

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2. Baked turnip “chips”

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3. Balsamic glazed chicken thighs with quinoa and roasted Okinawa purple sweet potatoes.

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For the record, always cook with chicken thighs. Chicken breasts dry out more easily, are inconsistent in thickness (which makes them hard to cook) and don’t have as much flavor as dark meat. You know when you have delicious Mongolian BBQ and you think “I can never make chicken taste like this at home”? That’s because it’s chicken thighs. Oh, they are also usually cheaper.

Usually my Friday freestyle foods aren’t recipes. I just make it up as I go along. I likely won’t make another dish exactly like any of them again since they are usually about an unusual combination of things I have at that moment. But it’s exciting and different. Unlike our average Friday nights.