Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Friends

Arugula and Robust beside the bowl of mango salsa

Dinner is served... it looks a little messy on the plate, but that's ok because it tasted super good.

A couple weekends ago, Scott and I stopped into Capital Ale House around 4pm after a day of wedding shopping and errands. We sat at the outside bar. I got my Stoli and soda water, and Scott took 30 minutes and inquiry with the bartender before choosing from their 275 beers on offer. It was relaxing and a great way to end a busy day. We listened to another conversation happening at the bar about beer and food pairings, we watched the baby ducks and their momma walking around the patio area, we tried to decide what we'd do for dinner...
That's when a guy came out to the bar and sat in one of the 2 chairs to my left. He very sweetly asked if I'd mind moving my purse, as a friend was joining him. I told him that my bag needed its own chair. He had a quick and clever comeback. The bantering only continued when his friend arrived wearing a DARE t-shirt. (Can you believe it's called PEAK now?) We'd had several laughs with these guys before we even knew their names. Travis had been the first to arrive, and his friend was Mike. Instantly, we were into full blown discussions, and Scott and I ordered another round.

The rounds kept coming, the conversation never died down, and it was 10 o'clock before our little party broke up. Numbers were exchanged, and intentions for hanging out again soon were shared.

Fast forward 2 weeks, several food texting conversations, and emails about lesson plans. We were all at Capital Ale House again in the late afternoon enjoying the gorgeous weather. After 2 rounds and a couple of hours, we knew we should make a move. The last time we hung out, no one was feeling all that awesome the next day. So, food. Let's cook food. We suggested they come to the house for dinner. Mike and I are the foodies of the group, so the planning was all us. We were good with that. Mike and I instantly started throwing out ideas... tilapia? chicken? olive tapenade? citrus? roasted potatoes? In about 5 minutes we settled on something that would be fairly easy and economical. We'd saute some chicken up (We don't have a grill yet, sadly) and top it with a mango salsa. We'd roast some potatoes- let's do fingerling!- and add in some onions and garlic. An arugula salad on the side and we'd have a simple meal. Mike and I took off for Whole Foods while Travis and Scott stayed back to finish their Schlafly American Pale Ales.

Mango, lime, red onion, cilantro, jalepeno, garlic, avocado, chicken, potatoes, a nice cheese, and we were out the door and on our way to meet Travis and Scott at the house. Mike got to work on potatoes right away, slicing them lengthwise, and adding in the garlic and EVOO. I was on veg prep, so I threw the onions into the mix. My salsa was coming along. I diced up the mango- which was so sweet and perfect, some red onion, a jalepeno, some tomato, avocado, and cilantro. I added some black beans I'd had in the fridge, and seasoned it with salt, pepper, cumin, and Mexican oregano. While I was at it, I sliced some red onion and tomato for the salad. Potatoes were in the oven, and Mike got to work on the protein. He added EVOO and butter in the heavy saute pan, followed by the bite size tenders that would work their way into a nice shred ready to be topped by the salsa. I made a quick dressing for the arugula with a pressed garlic clove, balsamic vinegar, EVOO, Dijon, salt, and pepper. When the potatoes and chicken were done, I tossed some dressing, the cheese, and arugula in a big bowl, so we could easily top it with the veggies and nuts.

Dinner was served and everyone was happy. We had a great time. Travis and Mike are the kind of people you want to meet. Easy-going, funny, unpretentious, and real. Mike and I have made many plans for future meals, and I'm pretty sure Scott and Travis will be happy to eat what we make. This should ensure many more good times together and I'm very good with that.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

White ChiLightning

Last Saturday, Scott and I spent a good few hours at Barnes and Noble. He was leaving for St. Louis Sunday afternoon and had a lot of work to do. I did no work- even though I had a bag full of papers to grade- but, instead took the time to just write, read, and research. Eventually, we got hungry and I started thinking about dinner. I wanted something super comforting, and since it was going on 6 o'clock, I needed something that wouldn't take hours to prepare. I was at a good place for inspiration, and when looking through Chef Magazine, I saw a bowl of red chili. Instantly, I thought of something I'd oddly craved for years, but have never eaten before in my life. White Chicken Chili. I'd thought about making it several times with Quorn, but never did. Now that I was working some meat back into my menu, it was time.

I spent a little time looking through cookbooks, and also did a little online searching until I'd taken all I'd seen, added my own preferences, and came up with the recipe I would use. I made my grocery list, and we hit up the Martin's that was right next door.

When we got home, I started by chopping the organically vegetarian anti-biotic free chicken tenders into small bite size pieces and dropped them into my sturdy saute pan with about 3 TBSP of EVOO. Next, I added a chopped yellow onion and about 6 large garlic cloves that I put through a press. I cooked it until the chicken wasn't pink anymore and the onion and six cloves of garlic were filling the air with promise. Time to take it off the heat. I stirred it with a wooden spoon the whole time, and that helped shred the chicken a bit for me.

Next came out my Le Cresuet. I put in another TBSP of EVOO along with about a teaspoon of coriander and 2 heaping teaspoons of cumin. I let the spices soak up the oil and toast a bit before adding 3 finely diced jalepanos. I actually planned to put one habanero and one jalepeno in this chili, but Martin's had no habaneros. Next was a chopped anaheim- I wanted to use a poblano, but again, Martin's had none. The japs and anaheim did the job just fine.

I added about 3/4 of a box of vegetable stock. (I imagine chicken stock might add more depth, but I'm not all gung ho about eating meat, so I'd prefer to use veggie stock, even if I am cooking meat. This is the first time I cooked chicken in almost 10 years. It was a little weird for me.) I juiced a lime and added the juice. I let all of this come to a boil for about 10 minutes before adding about a cup of frozen baby sweet corn kernels, two cans of rinsed navy beans, and the chicken/onion/garlic mixture. I let it come to a nice rolling boil before I backed it off to a simmer. I gave it about 25 minutes to do its thing before adding a handful of chopped cilantro. Heat off.

When it cooled a bit and was ready to serve, I ladled a huge servings into my favorite soup bowls, which had belonged to Grandma Phoebe. I topped the chili with some jalapeno jack cheese, some sour cream, chopped tomatoes, and a few cilantro leaves. We had a some Snyder's White Corn Tortilla Chips on the side. The chili was delicious and every bit as comforting as I needed it to be. The heat was just enough, the balance came with the cilantro and lime juice, and the sour cream and Jalapeno Jack completed the texture. Scott was happy, and as he filled his bowl with a second helping, I felt sure he'd return to me from the Midwest.

I also think I finally understand the previously inexplicable cravings I had for this dish, and am quite sure I will want it again very soon.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is.

We spend a lot of money on groceries.

Everyone says that eating healthy really costs more, because, well, it does. Buying local free range organically and vegetarian fed chicken eggs for $5/dozen is simply more expensive than... well, I don't know. How much are the battery house torture chamber eggs? I really have no idea, but I'm guessing it's a lot less than $5. Eating gluten free doesn't help matters either. Although I had one little success with bread, I'm no where near depending on myself completely, and my current loaf of choice is nearly $6. Add organic dairy, fruits, and veggies to the list, and oh! Don't forget Scott's 6-pack of micro brews and it's easy to see how groceries top our list of expenses.

We have been well aware of this for quite some time, but have decided it's worth it. It's just worth it. Some people must have expensive brand name jeans or shoes. Some people like to always drive a new car. Others put a lot of money toward their hobbies or collections. It all boils down to priority. And whatever your priority is- good on you. You have to live for what makes you happy. If you're really lucky, and maybe you are- you can have it all. We're doing okay, but we're not that lucky- we have to choose.

Eating well makes us happy. We choose food.

(It works out that eating healthy doubles as my hobby since I love to cook the healthy food we buy. See? I'm doubling up- that certainly must save money!)

That said, we do have a wedding coming up and I have been trying not to allow the grocery bill to get any more out of hand. This means going to food that will go far. When I plan my meals at the beginning of the week, I always start with what I have on hand. On Sunday, my goal was also to see how far I could make every meal stretch. How could I use the same ingredients in several meals?

I started with a can of black beans sitting at attention in the pantry. I decided that spicy black beans would be a good place to start. I'd need to buy a red and yellow pepper- I put those on the Trader Joe's list- they are always cheapest there. I already had onions, of course, and there was already a bag of frozen corn in the freezer. I'd buy a couple Romas and we'd be good to go. Salsa, sour cream, and tortilla chips are all staples for us, so we'd have all the needed accompaniments. The best news was that I knew there would be leftover beans. I already decided how to use them and that would be for breakfast cuddled inside a nice thin omelet. They could stand in place of that expensive GF bread! My guess was that I'd have enough leftover for 2 days worth of breakfasts for Scott and me.

I knew I wouldn't need 2 entire peppers in my black beans, so I thought of how else I could use them. I decided I could caramelize them with a bigger onion than I needed for the beans, then I could use some of those to top a pizza since I had a GF crust in the freezer I wanted to use up so I can make my own. (Not a huge fan of what I bought, but it was a 2 pack...) and I'd use the rest to make a jarred pasta sauce more interesting. I had a jar of Organicville sauce I'd bought for back up when it was on sale. (Making your own is super easy, and cheaper, but come on, we all need a jarred sauce in the pantry!) I also had a free bag of corn pasta to use from the beverage manager at Maggiano's. He's super sweet and we had a long GF conversation when I was in last week. He gave me a bag to try. How nice was that?

I now had 3 dinners and 2 breakfasts going from the inspiration of a $1.20 can of beans.

Time to cook. I chopped a large yellow onion and both peppers and got them started with some evoo, salt, and pepper. I cooked them low and slow until they were brown and gorgeous. I removed a little more than half to use for the pizza and for the sauce. I added a handful of frozen corn. The water from the ice, along with a few TBSP from my glass, deglazed the pan perfectly. I added a bay leaf. I let the corn cook for a few minutes, then added some spice. Obviously, I love Penzey's, but these exact spices aren't necessary. I threw in two Chili Piquin peppers- tiny little dried peppers that pack a huge heat punch, a few shakes of Adobo powder, some Ancho Chile Powder, a little Chipotle Powder, and why not? Some of their Arizona Dreaming blend... it's so good... It's got several spices creating its perfection, but cumin, oregano, and lemon stand out. I added a bit of this and a bit of that until I liked the balance. If you're not lucky enough to live near a Penzey's and don't have time for their awesome mail order, just use some cumin, chile powder, and chopped jarred jalapenos. I let the spices toast and when it started to get a little dry, I added the two chopped Roma tomatoes and the black beans and just let it simmer for a bit while I waited for Scott to get home from playing basketball.

When it was time to eat, I piled a little of the beans on my plate, put a few chips on the side with some salsa and sour cream. I did buy a treat at the store... avocados were on sale, and they are so good and so good for you... I just couldn't resist. I cubed it up right in the skin and flaked it on to our plates. It would be perfect on the eggs too.

I dug in and yummm... cheap can be so good. The best part was that there was enough leftover for 4 small omelets, and I also had the rest of the onions and peppers in the fridge waiting for their moment. I don't think our grocery bill is declining greatly any time soon, but it is oddly satisfying to know how far I could stretch a can of beans, an onion, and 2 bell peppers. Maybe one day I'll eat this well AND buy clothes that aren't on the Target clearance rack. Until then, I choose food.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My first loaf of bread- ever. And it's gluten free.

A favorite childhood memory is breakfast at Grandma Phoebe's house. She'd cut a sinfully thick slice of her homemade rye bread, toast it perfectly, and slather it with butter. It was heaven.

I have her recipe, but I never baked a loaf. I've never baked a loaf of bread that wasn't a quick bread. I've always wanted to, but I never did. My grandma would spend full days baking bread and rolls. I've been there, I've helped her, I've watched the entire process, but I just never had the courage to try it myself. I'm not afraid of all baking. Cookies? No problem. I'll bust out biscotti and complicated cookies at Christmas time that get rave reviews. But bread? That's a whole new ball game. And I won't even comment here on cake.

After a couple weeks of eating gluten free frozen bread products void of protein and fiber, I had a realization. The reason I never baked before was because the Universe had plans. I needed to wait to learn to bake until now. I had to learn how to bake in a totally different way than Grandma. I had to learn to bake gluten free because this is now my path. And so began endless amounts of reading and learning about different flour combinations and starches... which ones were highest in protein, which were highest in fiber, and how to use those in proportion to the starches and flours that don't offer as much on the nutrition end, but are needed to create a tasty end product.

I happened upon Karina's Kitchen. I learned a lot on her blog not just about gluten free baking, but about gluten free living. Unless you just came out from under a rock, if you have any food sensitivities at all, I am sure you know exactly who she is. I spent a lot of time just browsing her recipes and her thoughts and learning from her immense experience. I loved that she had some of the same feelings I had about flours. She most often uses sorghum, millet, almond, and buckwheat- and those were all high on my list and in my pantry waiting for me.

Suddenly, my computer lit up and fireworks began to explode. Karina had a recipe for Ryeless Rye bread. REALLY? I could possibly taste something like the heaven Grandma used to make for me? This could happen? Reading the recipe only made me more excited. She used sorghum and millet, which would make this bread much healthier than the loaf currently in my freezer, and the caraway seeds were practically calling my name.

When we went to Penzey's this weekend, I went straight for the caraway seeds and inhaled the sample jar deeply. I just didn't want to be disappointed. I mean, really, I have never baked bread before and now I suddenly think I'm going to pull off a gluten free loaf? I talked myself down off the ledge. If it sucked, I'd chuck it. I'd try again. I'd get it right. Unless I wanted to depend on store brand nutritionally challenged gluten free bread forever, I'd have to.

Here is the link to Karina's Ryeless Rye Bread.

For now, I hid within the safety of following her recipe almost to the T. I did use 2 eggs versus the egg replacer. I didn't use sesame seeds on top, but instead more caraway like Grandma did. At the moment I was sprinkling the caraway seeds on top, I felt her presence as I often do when I'm in the kitchen. I was once again reminded how much I love that cooking keeps me so close to my family who I miss so much.

My bread took about 40 minutes to bake. It was golden on top and fell right out of the baking pan. I devoured the end slice immediately. I slathered on some Earth Balance and dug in. Scott was napping on the couch and I thought my smile might wake him up. It was so yummy. It was as close as I could have ever hoped. I went right back for a second slice, which I popped in the toaster. When it was ready it woke Scott up. I was happy to share and to see him join in my excitement upon his first bite. I'd done it! I baked bread and it was good!

I'm excited to move forward. I want to explore bread. I want to decide on the combination I like best and that I feel is most healthy for me. I want to make baguette and pizza crusts... breakfasts breads and dinner rolls... I want to make biscotti nearly as good as I always have with wheat flour and maybe even a cake one day... Today was a great start and I am crazy excited to keep going.

Becoming gluten free is going to allow me to learn so much. I don't for one second want to feel sorry for myself or be depressed because I can't have something. I want to make anything I used to eat. And I want it to be as close to, or even better, than I ever remember it being.

I need a snack.

Aren't snacks every bit as important as meals? They get you through never ending mornings, give you the energy for the gym, make watching a movie just that much better, and are perfect with a cocktail and conversation...

I've noticed magazines lately offering endless lists of healthy snacks. I love this. It makes me want to yell at random people, "Put down the 100 calorie pack of crap. Eating healthy snacks is easy. You will feel better. And damn it, you're smart enough to figure out your own reasonable portion!!!"

Snacks for me usually hang out in the fruit and nut area during the week while I'm at school. Walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, oranges, apple slices, pineapple, to name a few. Larabars have been a new favorite since going GF and I love their simple list of ingredients. (My favorite, peanut butter cookie, has simple dates, peanuts, and salt in the ingredient list.) At home, hummus goes without saying, and wouldn't be complete without the perfect companion. These days, I'm into Trader Joe's Baked Lentil Chips. Sometimes I go for a few Snyder's white corn tortilla chips dunked in super spicy salsa. (Can you believe they have 40% less fat than most other tortilla chips and their texture is perfect?) When friends are over and a Stoli is in hand, olives are required. And popcorn during a movie should never come from the microwave.

Upon reading through one of the previously mentioned snack lists, I came across kale chips. I've seen kale chips at Whole Foods pop up in the past month. They are a whopping $7 for what looks to be a couple handfuls. I searched Google and discovered just how easy they are to make. I followed the recipe from my favorite cooking couple, The Neeley's. (Seriously, I LOVE them.) I tore the leaves off the stalks of a bunch of kale and put them in the salad spinner. After a soak and spin, I laid the leaves out on a tea towel to air dry for about a half hour. I put them in a big bowl and used about a TBSP of evoo on the bunch. After a good toss to coat all the leaves evenly, I spread them out on parchment lined baking sheets. A little sea salt and freshly ground pepper led to them going into the oven on 300 for 25 minutes. When they came out, I sprinkled them with a bit of brown sugar and let them cool. I popped a couple in my mouth to try and had to come right back to my computer to avoid standing there eating both trays immediately. They are seriously amazing. Amazing. If you run screaming from greens, this is the recipe for you. Nothing about them feels green. A lovely way to sneak in some vitamin K and calcium. I apologize for not having a photo. I accidentally deleted it. Technology and I have come a long way, but we still have our moments. Picture gorgeous green leaves of crispy perfection and you pretty much have it.

Next on the agenda was a trail mix I saw in Claire Robinson's (The "other" woman) cookbook. I put 2 cups of raw pumpkin seeds, a cup of raw slivered almonds, and a cup of sunflower seeds into a bowl with 3 TBSP of high grade maple syrup (she says 6 TBSP, and that just seems like a lot to me, but if you're a sweets person, it might be perfect) and a heavy sprinkle of sea salt. I tossed them to coat and spread them on 2 parchment lined baking sheets. I set the oven back to 300 and gave them about 20 minutes, stirring them every 5 minutes or so. I took them out of the oven to allow them to cool. I chopped up some tart dried cherries and half a bar of Green and Black's 85% dark chocolate and mixed it all together. Salty, sweet, chocolaty- and healthy.

In the picture, there is also a pan of cooling walnuts I'd toasted a bit. I toast enough to get us through a couple weeks of snacks. They're so good all toasty, and Scott loves them on his cereal in the morning. I prefer them just as they are. Walnuts are incredible. I can be starving, but eat a few halves of walnuts and feel completely satisfied.

These unadulterated snacks might not be as fast as opening a 100 calorie pack of Oreos, but they're close, and what they will provide will leave you much more nourished than the Oreos ever could.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

My blog gets a make-over.

I really love that blogging is so darn easy. I love being able to take things I love so much- cooking, journaling, and photography- and put it all together in one little hobby. I've missed my hobby.

After my last post, I took lots of pictures. I think I have at least 5 meals of pictures on my camera... but, life was intense (marriage plans and moving through my year back to teaching) and sadly, none of my pictures ever got words to go with them.

Then came a big turn in my life... My severe hip pain has been going on for about 5 years off and on. I could live with it. It wasn't constant. Then, in the fall, my back started. And it was bad and it was constant. My hips got worse. Other joints began to inflame. I was waking up daily with my left ring finger locked the joint would be hurting so much... and my big toe- I honestly thought I had gout the joint hurt so badly it was often waking me up in the middle of the night!

When I couldn't get through a day of teaching because of my back, I ended up at West End Chiropractors and in front of Dr. Bryant Snyder. He's nice. He's cute. And as skeptical as I can be, I could feel he wanted to help me. I later found out he was a Duke fan, which only adds to the love I have for him! He did x-rays- my spine was a mess, my neck was a mess... but, it wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed. It was going to take time, but I would get better. The first thing he told me was no meds. I'm not a girl to pop pain pills all willy nilly, but I will admit, I'd been keeping Advil in business over the weeks prior. I was a little nervous. Ice rest heat was his fill in for my Advil. No gym for awhile. (This, of course, sent me into tears and brought on a huge bouts of anxiety...) And for a month or so, I'd have to see him 3 times a week.
This part of the story could get very long, but I'll cut it down a bit. I saw Dr. S. for 3 times/week for 6 weeks or so. I started doing better. I could go for light walks. I cut back to twice a week, then to once a week, and was able to try out more and more at the gym.

Overall, however, Dr. S. wasn't thrilled with the fact that certain adjustments just weren't sticking. He asked me one day if I had an autoimmune disorders that I was aware of and if I knew what that meant. In fact, I did! My mother had vitiligo and I was diagnosed with it 12 years ago. I told Dr. S. about my mom... she had Type 1 Diabetes (Complications of which led to her early death at the young age of 52) also, which he informed me is also autoimmune.
Dr. Snyder said we needed to talk. He was concerned about my body fighting itself on adjustments. He was concerned about my hip pain. (I filled him in on my toe and finger, which I hadn't yet done- it only supported his suspicions.) He told me I could actually have a gluten intolerance.

WHAT? Ok, so I knew from my initial research of vitiligo 12 years ago that some people thought there was a food allergy connection- that poor digestion and "leaky gut" had something to do with it. Was this what he was talking about? Dr. Snyder had me schedule a longer appointment for my next adjustment so he could teach me a little more. Of course, I went home and hungrily found all I could on food intolerance and autoimmune disorders. I have 2 autoimmune disorders, but I have a HUGE symptom of gluten intolerance, which has impeded me more than either disorder, and that is my joint pain. I really didn't like waking up feeling like I was twice my age, and I hated not understanding why. My research explained it and Dr. Snyder was there for me to fill in all the holes in my knowledge. It was a huge week for me. Was I going to have control over this? Could my mother have had control over all she suffered with? I knew if I didn't do something, my autoimmune response would likely only worsen. Was I going to sit around and wait for RA or MS?

It's like this in simple terms. If your body cannot digest gluten, it lets it seep out into your bloodstream. There the body thinks it's poison. The sticky evil gluten molecules find healthy tissues to stick to- and then your body kills the gluten- as well as the healthy tissues. This results in anything from Type 1 Diabetes to Exzema to IBS or Chron's to Vitiligo... or several other body fighting itself issues. Every one is different, which is why it's only now beginning to have some understanding... The medical model is starting to pay attention, but not fast enough. Dr. Snyder started paying attention because at 3 years of age, his little girl was suffering so badly with Exzema and was in so much pain, he was determined to find a way to help cure her. Now he helps his patients.

There are lots of tests I can take to learn the whole picture... and Dr. Snyder, of course, wants to see the whole picture, but he also understands I am preparing to get married, and that I am just the kind of girl who needs to take one thing at a time. He suggested I try a couple months gluten free- just to see what would happen.

I went home and finished up the pita chips and hummus we had. I sighed and said goodbye. I didn't think it would be terribly difficult, really... the pita chips I had were a treat... on a day to day basis, I don't eat a lot of processed wheat stuff. My kashi bar afternoon snack would need replaced. I guess I needed to get new bread, since my sprouted ezekial would no longer work alongside my morning egg... but, other than that... shouldn't be too hard.

And honestly, it wasn't. I had to do a lot of research, but I like to do that. I had to read labels carefully, but I like to do that. I saw it as a food challenge and I was up to it. It was just two months, I'd eat gluten again one day, right?

Um, no. I won't. I will never put another bite of gluten in my mouth I feel quite certain. After getting through a week of withdraw (I could post just about those interesting experiences... wow.) I was overwhelmed by the changes... since a couple of days of GF, my finger has not one single morning been locked or achy. My toe- nothing- I'm sleeping like a baby. My hips- my poor 80 year old hips? 80% better. My last few adjustments? :) :) I'm STICKING baby!!! Not to mention the 5lbs I dropped in a couple weeks (Dr. S. says I'm probably metabolizing better, and well, not being able to partake in most teacher lounge flour and sugar laden treats is helpful.) and without going into detail I will tell you my digestion is just happier overall. I feel like someone opened the curtains to a perfect spring day. I could hug Dr. Snyder's cute little neck for this. I know it's the start. I know it's the beginning of a long journey to understand what is going on with my body... I know I could have caisen and soy or even egg sensitivities. I know we need to understand how much damage might be done to my small intestine. My adreanal glands are a concern... I know I need to move forward with testing- and I'm going to. But I need to do one thing at a time... and since Gluten is the big gun, the general of food intolerance when you're autoimmune... I feel like I'm off to a good start. I need to take time to adjust to this. To listen to my body, to learn.

This is all why my blog is getting a make-over. My pantry is rid of whole grain pasta and all purpose flour. It's now stocked with corn pasta and lots of new to me gluten free flours and starches like sorghum and tapioca. My favorite protein sources- Quorn and Seitan- are gone and will be replaced with small portions of the highest quality meat I can buy. I'm ready to chronicle what works for me and how this whole experience is already changing my life.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tempeh it forward

Tempeh is a fermented Indonesian soy patty. That might not sound good, and the black spotted picture above might not make it look good... Trust me though, tempeh deserves a chance.

Because tempeh is made by fermenting whole soy beans, it retains much more protein and a higher level fiber, vitamins, and minerals than its other popular soy sister, tofu. Phytic acid is also worth considering. Soy beans have a very high level of the stuff, and it keeps your body from absorbing certain minerals and vitamins- not only those from soy products, but from other things you eat with the soy products. This is a large part of the soy controversy. Tofu and soymilk retain almost 100% of their phytic acids when processed because unlike other beans, you can soak and soak soybeans and still not get rid of the stuff. Tempeh, however, with its fermentation process, actually loses almost half of its phytic acid. This goes for Miso and tamari as well. I'll save the other benefits of fermentation for another time... perhaps I need to make something with sauerkraut soon... I have been craving it since I skipped out on eating it at the New Year like my other Northern friends. Oh- and that black stuff? Nothing to worry about. It's totally normal. I promise. As long as your tempeh is in date and isn't green, your good. Grey and black are just fine.

I used to make a bbq tempeh sandwich all the time. I'd used Amy's Maple Orgainc BBQ Sauce and it was good. I haven't made this dish in well over a year, though, and I decided to make my own sauce this time.

I cracked open my brand new Vegan Soul Kitchen cookbook by Bryant Terry that Scott so thoughtfully gave me for Christmas. I was positive I'd find a great recipe- and I was correct. I followed Mr. Terry's advice, other than I chose not to use chipotle peppers... I like them, but just a little... to me, it can often over power and I didn't want a super strong chipotle flavor all through my sandwiches, so I opted out. I also didn't have enough cumin... MUST MUST MUST get to Penzey's this weekend... so, instead, I used Arizona Dreaming- which is a spice blend Penzey's was giving away during my last trip. It worked perfectly. It's a blend of ground ancho, onion, garlic, paprika, lemon, jalepenos, chipotle, cocoa.... it's good stuff.
I had so much confidence in the hot vegan chef that I decided to double the recipe. That, and the can of tomato sauce I bought was about twice what I needed and I didn't want to waste it. Into a sauce pan went 1/2 cup EVOO, 1/2 fresh lime juice, 1/2 cup Bragg's Aminos (it's just tamari/soy sauce basically- but healthier) 1/2 cup aqave necter, 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar (oh, I used 1/4c red, 1/4c cider b/c I didn't have enough red...), a 15oz can of tomato sauce, 1 TBSP cumin, 1 TBSP Arizona dreaming, 2 tsp thyme, 1/4 tsp cayenne, and 1 cup water. A good whisk and medium heat would lead this to a nice simmer... it needed about 30-40 minutes to reduce down to about half its size. Doubling was a good idea. It's sweet, it's got a vinegary bite, a bit of heat, the lime juice in the background... I've made a few bbq sauces before and this was the best. Last night, I cooked Quorn meatballs and sweet potato fries and drizzed the sauce over the whole plate- yum.

I sliced a couple medium onions and a large green bell pepper. EVOO, salt, and low-medium heat for 40 minutes or so, and they would be caramelized heaven.

Time to prep the tempeh. Tempeh comes in a brick. There are many brands, but I really like LightLife. Tempeh can also be combined with rice, other grains, or veggies. I like them all, and actually, I can't tell a big taste difference. Once you get the tempeh out of the packaging- never an easy feat- I always do the same thing:
I think tempeh can have a bitter odd flavor... and I found that if I boil it, it goes away. So, regardless of what I am doing with tempeh, I always start out by cutting it into 5 pieces, butterflying it, and boiling it for 10 minutes. Then, I drain it and let it cool. After that, options are endless. You can leave it as is and create little patties, you can cube it and shallow fry it, you can slice it thinner and make fajitas or stirfrys, you can crumble it to make sloppy joes or a bolognaise... you can fry, saute, bake, grill... you get the point- it's a versatile little fermented brick.

From this point, it's just putting everything together. I crumbled the tempeh into the caramelized onions and green peppers, and added enough bbq sauce to give it a nice coat. The taste was on point. I gave it a bit of time to warm through all together while I toasted slices of Ezekial bread. I piled the bbq on top and drizzled a little ranch over the top. Wow... Thanks to that bbq recipe, these were, by far, the best bbq tempeh sandwiches I ever made.

If you've never had tempeh, pick up a brick next time you're at the store. You'll find it at most urban grocery stores near the produce with tofu, fake meats, non-cheese cheeses... you know where I mean. It lasts for a couple of months, so you'll have time to get your confidence up and find the perfect recipe- although I highly recommend this one.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

cabbage cravings...

I crave cabbage. Yesterday, I braised red cabbage for lunch. Today I wanted cabbage soup.

I recently purchased Love Soup by Anna Thomas. I checked this book out of the library a few weeks ago and have been reading through the recipes as though they were chapters in a book. Anna Thomas wrote The Vegetarian Epicure back in the day. If you're not familiar, it was before its time and is a classic. She wrote it when she was in college, which is only more impressive. Love Soup was published much later, after her children were grown. It's a beautiful book, and I ordered my own copy from Amazon before returning the copy I'd borrowed.

Much of her cooking is Eastern European inspired from her mother, and I adore Eastern European food. Growing up, my family ate a lot of cabbage dishes, goulash, pierogies, kielbasa... as did many of us reared in PA... so, her food speaks to me on a personal level as well.

I opened her book first thing this morning when cabbage soup was calling my name... I remembered reading a recipe for caramelized cabbage soup and I was pretty sure that was what I would have on the stove for dinner that night. A quick read through the recipe sealed the deal.

I quartered and cored a small green cabbage before slicing it thinly. The cabbage was probably about 2lbs. The recipe called for a pound, but I figured I'd cook it all. I'd give the soup all it could take and pack the rest up for a quick side dish later in the week. I threw it all in a large bowl and coated it lightly with EVOO. I spread it out on a cookie sheet, sprinkled it with some gray French sea salt and stuck it in a 375 degree oven. Every 10 minutes or so, I'd stir it around and in about 45 minutes or so, it was browned and about half its size. While it roasted, I had chopped an onion and a leak. I put about a a teaspoon of butter and a tablespoon of EVOO into my saute pan along with the two members of the Allium family and a sprinkle of the sea salt. The heat was medium low, and I knew it would be around 40 minutes of patience until they were golden brown and sweet.

I chopped a Yukon potato, 2 carrots, and the innards of a stalk of celery. I love a new stalk of celery when I am making soup. The inside leaves are so tender and sweet, I always go for those first. Scott washed up the entire stalk for me, and I cut them into smaller sticks. We ended up putting some sunflower seed butter on a couple of the cut up sticks as an appetizer. I packed the rest for quick snacks throughout the week. I put 5 or so cups of veggie stock into my Le Creuset along with the chopped carrot, celery, and potato and brought it to a boil for about 20 minutes before adding in the caramelized onions and leeks and the roasted cabbage. I used almost all of the cabbage, but what is left will be perfect for my lunch later in the week. Anna Thomas suggests seasoning this soup with fresh dill and finishing the soup with milk. I didn't want to do that, even though I am positive it would be delicious. Instead, I seasoned with a little kosher salt and Alleppo pepper, which is from Turkey. You can get it at Penzey's. It's smoky, but with some heat, and I have found I adore it with cabbage, eggs, rice... I let it all cook down for another 2o minutes and the result was lovely.

Scott compared it to the broth from a french onion soup. The caramelized onions and leeks had seemed to let go of the touch of butter I used on them, resulting in a rich and thick broth. We sopped it up with chunks of whole grain bread and each went back for a small second helping. It was perfect for this rainy day and cured my cabbage craving... at least until tomorrow.