Thursday, January 1, 2015

Tomatillo Chili

Out of all the culinary items I've discovered throughout my Woman's Day cooking journey, those that stand out the most are capers and smoked paprika. In short, capers are a marvelous little flower ball thingy found near the olives in the pickle aisle and are most def in the pickle/olive/artichoke flavor range and smoked paprika is not at all like regular 'ol shake-this-ruddy-flavorless-color-on-my-deviled-eggs paprika. It's smokey--hence the name.

This is my fourth year cooking from Woman's Day recipes and I'm all biggety about knowing how to cook but still I come across items and I'm all like,"What is that and where do I get it?"

This time I was trying to make my New Year's Day Vegetarian Chili and the recipe called for tomatillos. In my mind, what that meant was either some sort of vegetable in a can or some sort of tamale in a can. I searched the aisles of the ethnic cuisine at Kroger to no avail. What I did find was this:


All I saw was the word "tomatillo" and that's all I needed. I was tired of looking.

Of course, in reality a tomatillo is a vegetable that I could've found in the produce section, it obviously resembles a tomato, and had I read the recipe I might have realized that. But isn't this way more fun?

I dumped the entire 12 oz jar of sauce in my chili. I also added cilantro and 2 squares of Lindt chili dark chocolate. It was delicious.


Chili is the ultimate January meal in my opinion. Every year, my church used to host a special speaker and celebrate the new year with a chili cook-off. I obviously won on at least one occasion and gained possession of the coveted Chili Pepper Wreath for the year. 

In 2012, I also hosted a chili cook-off for small businesses to raise money for the winner's charity of choice. Our local bison farm earned the most votes and all the contestants took home hot sauce. Our runner up enjoyed a "chili" cake made by a local cake artist.



(Our Chili Cake...or IS it??)

Chili is really a community experience. I imagine my friends and I, out on the farm for a hearty cowgirl night, sipping cold fresh milk with spicy bowls of chili--all from our own secret recipes. There would be sides of cilantro, brown sugar, sour cream, and cheddar cheese with a selection of oyster crackers or rosemary bread. We'd all have our own special bowls and sit around the campfire. Maybe someone would bring a guitar and at the end of the night we'd smell smokey just like a ranch hand.


These chili pots are hand crafted by David Norton out of Round Hill, Virginia. I want the blue one for myself and I'd love to attach a recipe to each of the other three and give them to friends with a promise to host a Cowboy Campfire.

I'd place a tomatillo in each one. 

ingredients
U.S.Metricconversion chart
  • 3 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  • 1 cup(s) diced onion
  • 2 tablespoon(s) minced garlic
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup(s) thinly sliced carrots
  • 1/4 cup(s) chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon(s) ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon(s) ground red pepper (cayenne)
  • 8 ounce(s) (1 1/2 cups) fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut in big chunks
  • 1 medium (1 1/2 cups) zucchini,  halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 can(s) (19 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can(s) (28 ounces) tomatoes in purée, tomatoes coarsely chopped (see Note), undrained
  • 1/2 cup(s) chicken or vegetable broth, or water
directions
  1. Heat oil in a 3 1/2- to 4-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often, until onion starts to soften. Add red and green bell peppers and carrots and cook 5 to 6 minutes, stirring often, until carrots
  2. Add chili powder, ground cumin, salt and ground red pepper and cook and stir 1 minute.
  3. Add tomatillos and zucchini and cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until tomatillos start to soften.
  4. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes.
  5. Uncover and simmer 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, or until sauce has thickened and vegetables are tender.
tips & techniques
Note: To chop canned tomatoes, snip them directly in the can with kitchen scissors.

Behold!

Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." --I Corinthians 5:17

I made one New Year resolution, and that was to live in the present.

That IS to live in the present?

There are regrets--dwelling on them causes sorrow, anxiety, hopelessness. The future is uncertain so the potential for worry nears the surface in a race against doubt and fear.

This is what I have--I am making choices now. I'm choosing to reconsider my thoughts and produce action in this moment. This moment will be past. This moment will be forgotten more than likely. I have learned from the past and I've established goals. I am ready to just do.

I looked at my empty bowl of chili and found myself scooping up the remainder of the pot for seconds. I've eaten enough food in the past to know that eating seconds can lead to weight gain. If I wait, I may not be hungry after the first round settles.

In that moment I had more, I wanted more, and I could have more.

I put the remainder of the batch in a plastic container and I sat down to write this blog. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life making up for what I chose to do in the moment.

I'm thankful I had the money, time, and energy to make that chili. I enjoyed it, I gave thanks for it. I'm still hungry. And I can accept and I will accept it.

We fool ourselves planning for what we will do every day. I will just do.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Shrimp and Grits: The Truly Southern "Meal"

I know a few Southern chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs (entreprawneurs...I am full of the pun dickens today) who will chase me down and slice me up for this recipe blog but I have taken it upon myself to keep the public informed and informed they shall be.

The truth is, there is simply a lot of danger involved in eating seafood. It's full of bacteria, mercury, chemicals, and the industry is overwrought with environmental destruction and human rights violations. The Old Testament forbids the consumption of pork and shellfish. Well...there's probably a good reason for that according to health sources including Dherbs.com, distributor of various body cleanse supplements:


"Shrimp is a scavenger that thrives off of eating the flesh of dead creatures.

If you eat shrimp, you should be aware that you might be eating feces as well. The dark-colored tube on the shrimps back is the intestinal tract of the shrimp and it harbors bacteria. If you enjoy eating shrimp, you should remove the intestinal tube by running a small pick down the back of the shrimp until the tube falls out."


According to Greenpeace, tropical shrimp farming is harmful to the environment as well. And our grocers aren't doing an excellent job of keeping toxic fish and other seafood off of our plates either. I was dismayed to realize that Kroger barely escaped Greenpeace's fail grade because of "red listed" seafood. The red list primarily addresses seafood sustainability. But what about health?



("...even if they are labeled organic.")

Don't worry! I'm not here to completely rain on your parade! I'm not saying never eat seafood again. I am, however, encouraging you to know your source of seafood.

I am blessed to live in the best Southern Commonwealth ever where "our fish are clean before you ever take a knife to them." Virginia offers blue crab, sea trout, clams, and so many other varieties along with species fact sheets and suppliers directories. If you're going to buy shrimp for your grits, I would recommend that they hail from Alaska or if you're also a Virginia native, you can buy shrimp from any number of aqua-farms:


"Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network is a Virginia based co-op comprised of 25 member/owner aqua-farmers.  Our farmers raise chemical-free, sustainable channel catfish, rainbow trout, hybrid striped bass, and freshwater shrimp (prawns).  All of our products are farm-raised without the use of chemicals or hormones.  Our products are raised in all-natural environments with quality being our number one priority.  Our products are only harvested when orders come in to ensure absolute freshness to our consumers.  All of our farmers practice sustainable aquaculture while limiting their impact on the environment.  If you want the best quality and the ultimate in fresh fish and shrimp then we are right for you.  Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network, Raised Right…Raised Here, in the USA!!"


(Chincoteague Virginia Shrimp and Grits)




ingredients


  • 1 cup(s) quick-cooking grits
  • 2 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pound(s) large peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 2 teaspoon(s) Cajun or blackening seasoning (no salt added)
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoon(s) fresh lime juice
  • 2 clove(s) garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup(s) frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 bunch(es) spinach, thick stems discarded

directions
  1. Cook the grits according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with the Cajun seasoning and 1/4 tsp salt and cook for 2 minutes. Turn and cook until opaque throughout, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove the skillet from the heat, add the lime juice and toss to coat. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Wipe out the skillet and heat the remaining Tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the corn and cook until heated through.
  4. Add the spinach and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper and cook, tossing, for 1 minute. Return the shrimp to the skillet and toss to combine. Serve over the grits.

Nutritional Information
(per serving)
Calories384
Total Fat9g
Saturated Fat1g
Cholesterol214mg
Sodium452mg
Total Carbohydrate44g
Dietary Fiber4g
Sugars--
Protein29g
Calcium--

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vanilla-Chocolate-Strawberry-Mocha Pound Cake??

When you have ADHD you have to consciously slow down to read. Otherwise, you'll miss a number of things including but not limited to the big picture and important details. It happens to me all the time even though I attempt to slow down when reading (it takes a great deal of effort) and this time it cost me a pretty swirl in my Vanilla-Chocolate Pound Cake. Instead of a tablespoon of boiling water, I got ahead of myself and added a 1/2 cup--the measurement for the batter mix.

Needless to say, the swirl was far less swirly--bordering on non-existent.

Being the optimist that I am, however, I was able to inject my ADHD creativity to introduce a new line of pound cakes that are far more impressive that a simple chocolate/vanilla blend. Albeit some may be less of a contrast, each is guaranteed to be delicious.

Dreamscicle Pound Cake

For this recipe you replace the whole milk with orange flavored milk and substitute the hot chocolate mix for International Coffee's Orange Cafe.


Latin Pound Cake

This recipe calls for Nestle Abuelita Mexican Style coco mix, which you can find in the International section of your grocer. As you may already know, I add a pinch of Ancho chili pepper to my coffee filter each morning along with cinnamon for that extra kick. You may add a bit to this mix to make it bite back. 


Yin Yang Pound Cake

For an darker contrast try a dark chocolate coco powder like Moonstruck Dark Chocolate which uses the Dutch process to enhance the color. They advertise this flavor as "rich and decadent." 

Since I've cut out a lot of sugar from my diet I crave sweets more often and the drive for dessert is far greater than it used to be. So I allow myself dessert but I try to find ways to cut down on the intake of sugar. My greatest affinity is for Gummy Bears, so I bought fruit Popscicles since the candies are full of corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. I prepared a small slice of pounds cake with half a serving of Greek yogurt ice cream and for an added touch I tried new Dole Dippers--frozen strawberries covered in rich, dark chocolate! They come in packs of four and also go well with vanilla Greek yogurt.




Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Slow-Cooker Sliders

Marmalade was discovered by the Romans and is distinguished from jams and jellies because of the inclusion of the actual citrus peel. While orange marmalade is the most popular pectin, you can make marmalade from limes, lemons, grapefruit, and kumquats.

If you're a weirdo like me and find canning super stress-relieving, then you might get creative finding a way to "pair" (or pear as the case may be...) and can your own marmalade: lime margaritalade made with cilantro, lemon and ginger, papaya blood orange. pear-melo.

While fruit spread may encourage thoughts of English muffins, marmalade makes a marvelous dip, glaze, cookie, and a perfect partner to pork and while it makes sense for breakfast, don't sell it short when you're preparing dinner.

A sprinkle of smoked paprika can be added to the recipe for chipotle flair.


ingredients

  • 1 navel orange
  • 1/2 cup(s) sweet orange marmalade
  • 1/4 cup(s) packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoon(s) ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoon(s) cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon(s) cider vinegar
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 1/2 pound(s) pork shoulder, trimmed well and cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup(s) reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 head(s) romaine lettuce
  • 8 small rolls, split
  • Potato chips, for serving
  • Pickles, for serving      


directions

  1. Grate 1 teaspoon orange zest into a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Add the marmalade, brown sugar, cumin, 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper and whisk to combine.
  2. Add the pork and onion and toss to coat. Cook, covered, until the pork is tender and shreds easily, 7 to 8 hours on low or 4 to 5 hours on high.
  3. Ten minutes before the pork is done, squeeze 1/4 cup juice from the orange into a large bowl. Add the sour cream, remaining teaspoon vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Shred the lettuce. Add it to bowl and toss to coat.
  4. Using 2 forks, shred the pork and stir it into the cooking liquid. Form sliders with the rolls, pork, and romaine slaw. Serve with potato chips and pickles, if desired.

Review: Wen is a Wen-ner for Me!

If you relied solely on the reviews of the general public, you would think that Wen by Chaz Dean is one of the most surreptitiously deviant and poorly formulated products on the beauty market:

"I tried Wen hair care, hoping it would help with split ends. It was not a helpful product for my hair. I have fine but thick hair, and I ended up with sticky feeling hair with flyaway dry ends. But to add insult, I was encouraged to set up an account so I could get advice from a Wen Consultant. DO NOT DO THIS!! I have been charged monthly and shipped products I have not ordered."

"I've used this product twice. The first time, my hair certainly didn't feel clean afterward and it definitely didn't stay clean. I usually wash my hair twice a week, no problem. It's Wednesday, and I'll be washing tonght for the third time this week. I'm so disappointed because the commercials make it look so great. Sad deal, not worth it."

"Do not buy Wen products and especially DO NOT BUY THEM FROM THEIR ADS! Their ads lie and their guarantee is tough to get back. The product is not that great - just use your moisturizer as shampoo that is what Wen is... moisturizer works better, is cheaper and you won't have to deal with the scam tactics that the company uses & keeps billing even though you call to cancel."

The first issue I would like to address is that Wen is a "scam." I want to preface my review by clearly stating that I am not reviewing this product for any benefit besides lending wisdom to the general public and venting and I did not receive these products from any other means than a regular consumer. That said, I have worked in the call center of several businesses and despite my personal feelings about how those businesses are managed a few concrete facts became clear to me after working with thousands upon thousands of customers:

1. People want something for nothing. And I mean nothing.

Customers want free shipping and free services and they have no dignity when it concerns getting these things. They will lie, degrade you, threaten you, and steal from you. It happens every single day to businesses who are simply offering a decent product and would like to remain lucrative. 

2. People make purchases and don't read the fine print. Oh wait, people don't read the large print either.

One scenario that I will use to festoon the necks of at least 95% of people who wrote reviews for WEN calling it a "scam" is that Erin Entitlement went online, made a purchase without reading any of the details of how the company operates, and then became surprised and outraged when the terms she lackadaisically agreed to ACTUALLY TAKE PLACE. Not only did she want a free product, but she also wanted a representative from Wen to visit her home, pick up the product, package it, take it to UPS, and pay for the return shipping. Or maybe she thought that Wen just sends free product and then grants your money back 3 months later when you remember to call to cancel.

3. Companies will charge your credit card if you provide it to them because you PURCHASED THEIR PRODUCT.

This is pretty straight forward. Again, businesses don't hand over free product or services and just say,"Oh we just asked for your credit card because we're taking surveys on how many customers use Visa as opposed to Mastercard. We didn't really intend to charge you for that stuff you've had 3 months. It's ok. Keep it. If you want to make a donation later, it's tax deductible."

If you want to become completely disillusioned about humanity, work in a call center. I have worked for Christian organizations, clothing companies, and credit scores businesses. My advice would be, don't call religious hotlines because you're talking to someone who has a personalized, scripted prayer for you and just spent the last half hour talking to their neighbor about how drunk they became the night prior. Besides that, just be a decent human being and an honest consumer and research what you purchase.

That said, I had no problem whatsoever ordering Wen. I went online, and immediately changed my shipping frequency to every 10 months so I would not be charged again in a few weeks. I returned the empty bottles after a month and a half, kept the free gift, and sent the package insured mail. It arrived a week later and I received my FULL REFUND a week after that. I didn't have to call anyone at any time. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to read.

The product itself was good for me. I realize everyone is different and my hair is now more fine than thick. My best friend tried the product too and her hair is very thick and curly. She didn't like it as she said it made her hair more "poofy." I thought it made my hair greasy at first but then I realized I was not rinsing well enough. Don't use it in the bath--only the shower so you get a very thorough rinse. Once I rinsed it as the instructions stated, I will admit I was somewhat impressed. I typically have to wash my hair every day due to an oil scalp, but I have dry ends. Using Wen, I didn't have to wash my hair every day, it felt lighter, cleaner, and super moisturized. Plus the lavender brand that I purchased honestly smelled like lavender and in reading the ingredients I was pleased that it was shorter than other shampoos and I could easily identify and pronounce all of them.

I really needed all the extra fullness and moisture. Using the deep conditioning was a laughable event since I let my hair air dry and I ended up looking like a poodle. 

Wen offers a started kit in 3 different "flavors"--lavender, sweet almond mint, and pomegranate for different types of hair. They have a money back guarantee and ordering online is very simple. 





Monday, September 1, 2014

Grilled Spiced Chicken and Fry-Like Sticks

So here's the thing--when I can't get to my regular butcher for local, organic meat, I shop at Kroger for their Simple Truth line. As far as I can tell the difference between "natural" chicken and "free range" chicken is that free range chickens can eat bugs. This confused me a bit because who cares if chickens eat bugs but then again, if they can eat bugs in on the prairie, who knows what else they're getting into?

Also, despite the fact this recipe calls for an entire chicken I will say no thank you. I tried cutting up a chicken once and I didn't care for it all that much so until someone teaches me the fine art of butchering, I'll stick to my drums in a package or on itunes.

That said, I threw a side dish to compliment this spiced chicken and also if I just eat chicken and salad I'm definitely going to be hungry again in less than an hour. So I added my fry replacement: parsnip sticks:


Parsnips contain more sugar than other root vegetables like their cousin carrot so they can help curb a sweet tooth. They are higher in nutrients than potatoes and I season them with olive oil, salt, and in this case, the same coating I used for the chicken. You can use anything from old bay to cayenne pepper, then broil them until they're crispy like fries.

Any time a recipe calls for iceberg lettuce I think "eww" and then I think "no" so for this recipe I used lamb's lettuce for the salad instead of the nutrient-lacking iceberg lettuce. Mache is also prettier for those of you who like to make googly eyes at your food. I know I do.


I'd like to give a special shout-out to my mother who allowed me to borrow her spices. Coriander is $5-7 a bottle. Also it is essentially cilantro seed which I didn't realize.

Meanwhile pass the ketchup. These parsnip sticks are crunchy.