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undoing the paralysis

June 27th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

I stopped eating meat with every meal on May 2. And I love how I feel nowadays, but I didn’t expect that I’d enter in to a time of total culinary paralysis when faced with re-working a lifelong habit of making meat the center of my meals.

We haven’t wasted away, thank goodness, and we never will. We’ve made some delicious foods but I haven’t stretched myself a whole lot. I’m grilling a lot of veggies, sticking them on amazing breads or tying them up in delicious pilafs. I made this fragrant and savory Red Lentil Dhal that we’ve loved since the first time it crossed our stove and landed in our bowls. We’ve enjoyed plenty of legumes, super fresh salads topped with a wide array of ingredients and terrific grilled cheese sandwiches. But I’m not content to play it safe, to stick with what I know will be wonderful. I want to expand, to grow and to embrace fully this new method of eating and not just end up a Junk Food Vegetarian.

So I’m scouring the ‘net for inspiration, grabbing books with gusto from library shelves, from Half Price Books and from friends hands (not really, but I would if the opportunity came up) just to get my mind rolling into this new territory. And it is new territory. It’s a new and totally different way of life and even being as good a cook as I am, I’ve had moments of sheer panic in thinking ‘What the hell do I make now?’, hence the aforementioned grilled cheese.

The worst part was finding the time. I had to stop over-scheduling all my time away from work into activities that were taking me away from home, away from time to experiment and work up some of these new options. I think, subconsciously, I was avoiding it. No more. It’s time to start applying tabs to the cookbook pages, plot out a few weeks worth of meals and get back on track. The nicest part of being meat-free is how much it frees up in our budget. I knew we spent a lot on meat, but folks, it’s outrageous what we have to work with now that this aspect of our eating is gone.

So I started with chickpeas. But not just any chickpeas. This is a kick in the mouth, heady and WOW recipe that will just plain knock you on your tush.

And they look so innocent, don’t they?!

We do love our chickpeas around here, and Mike has taken to making some pretty tasty hummus for us to snack on. Then I discovered Roasted Chickpeas and my life suddenly seemed more complete. But really, that was just the tip of the iceberg because I found a recipe for this Indian Spiced Chickpea salad and now I’ve got something going with this handy and nutritious little legume. It’s called love. Luuuuurrrrrve, people. Straight up legume love.

With no cholesterol, no sodium, no saturated fat; an excellent source of protein and fiber, as well as minerals like folate, calcium, magnesium and potassium, it’s a super-duper powerhouse for the meatless maniac such as myself. And when paired with toasted mustard, fennel and cumin seeds with a nice shake of crushed red pepper, plus smooth creamy greek yogurt to soften the flavorful blow to your tongue, it a cool little force to be reckoned with. Like my resolve. This is just a few steps for me, this quick jaunt out of the starting gate. The gun has sounded. And there’s a lot of road to cover up ahead so hang on, all right? Here we go.

Note: This recipe is ridiculously simple to make, but the flavor improves over time as it sits. Make it up and allow an hour, or even more if you can, for sitting, stirring regularly. If you like less of a crunchy seed factor, grind the fennel and cumin seed before adding it to the oil. You’ll still get a load of flavor without the crunch. Don’t grind the mustard seeds. Those soften really well.

Indian Spiced Chickpeas

Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas—rinsed, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl. In a small skillet, heat the peanut oil until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds, partially cover the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until the mustard seeds stop popping, about 1 minute. Add the cumin and fennel seeds and the crushed red pepper and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the hot oil and spices over the chickpeas. Stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, sliced scallions, chopped cilantro and mint and salt. Serve the chickpea salad at room temperature.

Recipe Credit: Food and Wine magazine

 

after the rain

June 21st, 2011 | 4 Comments »

“Not only the thirsty seek the water, the water as well seeks the thirsty.”
~~~Rumi

the last jar

June 19th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

I made mustard as a Christmas present last year.

Mustard is one of my most favorite condiments, and it surprises no one more than me because I used to just hate it with a passion. Then as I got older, I managed to learn the delicious aspect of yellow mustard swirled with ketchup to drag your onion rings or french fries through, and I somehow realized that a swipe of yellow mustard and a few spoonfuls of sweet pickle relish were the ONLY way to eat a hot dog. Well, back in the day when I actually did eat hot dogs……

But then something happened. I discovered the delights of mustard, in it’s many forms. There was dijon, there was stone ground, and then we discovered jalapeno mustard. Along came honey mustard, and how wonderful it is warmed up as a dip for thick chunks of Snyders pretzels. There’s brown deli style mustard, chipotle mustard, raspberry mustard and Koop’s Arizona Heat. And where there once was only a small array of mustards on the grocers shelf, there now lies a vast display of mustard in so many flavors that it’s mind boggling to this mustard fiend. At one point, I think we had something like 6 or 7 different mustards in our refrigerator. We like our mustard.

And it’s really super easy to make too, that is, if you have a source for mustard seeds. Our local co-op carries both brown and yellow seeds, and once that was discovered, I had no reason not to whip up a mighty batch of this Roasted Garlic mustard to hand out as Christmas gifts last year. A mighty batch indeed; this made A TON of mustard. I gave away quite a bit, and kept three jars for us.

Now, our last jar stands open in the fridge.

It’s vinegar-y. It’s spicy. It rocks my sandwiches with flavor, it’s tiny little seeds popping in my mouth. It’s killer good on a bratwurst, or spread on ham or salami. I’d happily down a thick sandwich chock full of meat just to swab my bread with this killer condiment. I sent a jar off to the East Coast too, to my blogging friend Kim, also known as The Yummy Mummy and the Queen of #Charcutepalooza, a blogging phenomena that swept through Twitter, urging bloggers to cook their way through Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie cookbook. It sparked a revolution and it’s been amazing to watch it unfold. I knew the mustard would come in handy for all that cured porky goodness and I was right. Kim has asked me probably six times to post the recipe and finally, with her last prompt, I gave in. She can be kind of a pain in the ass kind of persistent, that girl.

My last jar……. I should hoard it. If I give in and make another huge batch, I’d have to find homes for all that mustard again. But I think it likely won’t be that hard.

Roasted Garlic Mustard

2-1/4 c. whole yellow mustard seed
3/4 c. whole brown mustard seed
2-1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 c. water
2 whole heads garlic
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
2 T. kosher salt

Combine both mustard seeds, vinegar and water in a large bowl and stir to combine. Cover and let stand at room temperature for a minimum of 8 hours, but I strongly recommend a full 24 hour soak for best flavor. Stir occasionally to mix it all up.

Slice the tops off of the garlic heads and remove most of the papery outer layer, leaving the cloves intact. Line an 8″ pie plate with foil and place garlic on foil, drizzle with the olive oil and fold the foil around the heads. Roast at 400° until very soft, 40-60 minutes. Allow to cool and gently squeeze the cloves from the skin. Place in a bowl and mash slightly.

Add half the mustard seed mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Scrape in half the mashed garlic and process in pulses, adding water by the tablespoon, until it begins to break down and look like grainy mustard. Process to whatever texture you wish, adding water and scraping the bowl as needed. Scrape processed mustard into a large bowl and repeat with remaining seed and roasted garlic, and add to processed mustard. Whisk in maple syrup and salt.

Spoon mustard into clean jars and seal lids tightly. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 8-10 cups.

Recipe from Eating Well magazine

 

Do you like mustard? What kinds do you like and how do you like to eat it?

owning my success

June 15th, 2011 | 12 Comments »

I can’t recall, nor can I find the exact date that I first hit the ‘Publish’ button on this blog and began this journey, but it happened in June, and it was five years ago, in 2006. There were hardly any food blogs then, and I really had no idea what I was getting myself in to, nor what would happen over the next 1,825 days, the people I would touch, and who would reach back to connect with me, the ways I would explore food and all it’s impact on my life and the way this little niche world would explode like it has. I had no concept of how this venture would change me, and who it would make me out to be. I’m a food blogger, for certain, but also, I buck the trendiness of food blogs. I don’t follow the popular ones, I don’t criss-cross the country for conferences, I don’t jump on the latest food bandwagon and post a recipe that’s been talked about to death. It’s not because of who I am, but because of who I am not.

Because I’m not one of those bloggers; you know, those picture perfect bloggers with the amazing photos that are always in rotation on the websites that every food blogger dies to get linked to, and the fact that I can’t even remember the names of these sites is proof I’m not one of those bloggers. I’m one that doesn’t reach for the stars, that doesn’t spend hours styling every photograph. I’m one that just makes stuff they like, take a few shots of it on an old TV tray set near a western window in a sunroom full of plants. A girl who crosses her fingers, most of the time, as she aims a simple point-and-shoot camera, hoping one or two of the 20-30 shots she takes will look really nice. And then applies all the best iPhoto techniques to them anyway, just in case, posts it to her blog and sends it into cyber space. To a place that no one really seems to go, but they do, according to the numbers. But they don’t, according to the comments.

There’s a lot that I do well, and even I can see that. And I hold stubbornly hard to the gut instinct that this blog of mine stay as organic, as original, as personal as possible. But it’s hard to continually put your best foot forward, akin to dressing for the coolest party and then showing up to an empty house, before you begin to think you’re just banging your forehead against the wall and no one is hearing the ‘cronk cronk’ sound of your effort. I’m no slouch as a food blogger, and my friends, my dearest most amazing and supportive friends will never let me forget that. They are my lifeline during those times I post what that I feel is incredible, yet also feels like something that no one seems to have found. But I will not compromise myself for success, and it’s been a long hard road to accepting the internal, and perceived success of this little place of mine. Because it isn’t out there, that success; it’s in here. It’s inside of me, not in the search engines, not in the popularity polls. It’s not in the accolades, ever. Ever.

And every year, as the anniversary of starting this blog approaches, I am faced with the same ‘standing on the ledge’ feeling; the sense that I want to jump ship, give up on this baby I’m trying to raise in all the right ways, maybe stuff both of us with junk food while watching endless amounts of bad television, while I hover over the ‘Delete’ button, eyes dripping in tears. It’s like we’re both five years old this year, this blog and I. Five. Years. Old. If this was a child, I’d be thinking of sending her off to Kindergarten. And those of us with children, we know how emotional this stage of life can feel.

But really, it’s a blog about food that has grown up in a superbly saturated food blog world. There are thousands upon thousands of food blogs out there now and unless you’re screaming at the top of your lungs from the rooftops about what you do and spreading yourself thin to every corner of the world in order to get your point across, you are, for the most part, an insignificant attendee at a big ol’ trendy party, hovering just outside the glare of the paparazzi.

And that’s not me anyway. My friends will be the first to remind me that I’m not a showgirl. I’m the one who enters any gathering and circles around the edges, a smile on her face, waiting politely for a group to stop talking so I can step in and say ‘Hello’.  I never burst in and shout ‘Here I am!’ flashing something eye-catching, showing off my bling and ruffles. I’ll celebrate your success while I keep quiet about my own. I’m good about deflection. I’m humble about where I’ve gone, what I’ve done and what kinds of creations spring from my fingertips. I’m so good at what I do, but I’m terrible at telling you about it. I like for this blog to do that, to spread the word for me while I quietly hum to myself in the background, maybe washing the dishes out of sight, my sleeves rolled up and a stray lock of hair falling over my forehead. If I based my sense of success on how glam this blog is, how well received it is, how much people talk about it, then I’d never lift my head off the pillow. But that isn’t what success has come to mean to me. Not for this little blog, in her unassuming way. And it certainly isn’t how I measure my own success.

And in terms of the last five years of blogging, I can, with the utmost confidence say that this blog has been a success; a rousing, mind-blowing, gorgeous and delicious success. In my own world, where the only thing that counts is the measuring stick I hold up next to me, this blog of food, photos and stories has had an undeniable, smashing run. I can look back over the last five years and see how far I’ve come in terms of my writing, my pictures and the foods that I show you. It’s grown by huge leaps and bounds, become tightly focused and, within the last few years, has found it’s footing with an audience that loves what they find each time they pull up my site. Within my local food community, the people in my immediate circle, the ones who move and shake the food life of Minnesota, I’ve found a platform that is solid and an acceptance that is monumental. My reach as a blogger may not be far, but it runs very, very deep. And in my own quiet and unassuming way, I’d like much more to deeply please and really touch half a dozen people than a hundred or more in an utterly superficial way. One ‘Yum’ comment means little to nothing for me. I want to stir something in you with what I post. I want it to make you feel something move within your heart, or your gut. At the very least, I hope it makes you hungry. And not just for food.

So this post is an acknowledgement of ownership. This baby, this little one that’s grown, evolved, matured and become stronger is not going anywhere. And neither am I. We’re going to stick with our plan, the foods that nurture you both in body and spirit, while continuing to avoid the proverbial blogging TV, the ads that make you Want! Want! Want! and avoid the urge to think that somehow, it needs to me more than it is. Although I may have moments where I gaze in frustration at what the public seems to find appealing in terms of food blog posts, I can’t measure my own acceptance by that tiny and insignificant stick. Every post that comes through my fingertips originates within my heart, and springs to life through the food, the recipe, the words and the feelings it evokes. Nothing you read here is ever forced or contrived, even the posts for financial compensation. Nothing is ever posted to fill empty space, a day in the week or some need to be heard. I rarely have an agenda when I write, except when I’m eager to express what my food wants to say. And my food speaks clearly when it desires to be heard, and tapping in to that effect is what makes this blog soar.

I must admit though, that this post has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. It’s an acceptance that doesn’t come easy, evidenced by how hard I push against the tide each Spring, how often I look at this place of mine and grind my teeth over what it’s not. We’re hard-wired to always want more than we have. We bombarded over and over with what we think we need, what we should do to become successful, to be popular, and to buck the trend, to get off the horse while the rest of the crowd rides on is difficult and often very lonely. But I can’t become something artificial. I can’t force this into a shape that it isn’t. And I absolutely won’t write anything for this blog that doesn’t spring to life within the muscle that powers my life. I’ll remain true to what I want within these pages, to follow my own path and trail.

And I hope you continue to stick with me in this journey.

wordless wednesday, natural style

June 8th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

“That which God said to the rose, and caused it to laugh in full-blown beauty, He said to my heart,
and made it a hundred times more beautiful.”  — Rumi

“If the foot of the trees were not tied to earth, they would be pursuing me..
For I have blossomed so much, I am the envy of the gardens.”
Rumi

“Nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small it takes time — we haven’t time —
and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
- Georgia O’Keeffe

 

black bean tostadas

June 5th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

I’m always on the look-out for quick and easy meal options, ideas for those nights that the guys take over dinner prep and want some good food to appear without a great amount of fuss. Long winded recipes don’t cut it with them, but these really easy Black Bean Tostadas make for a perfect summer dinner.

Based on this idea for a Black Bean and Corn Pizza, I took it one step more towards simple and used corn tortillas for the base, making a crispy shell that went from our toaster oven to my plate in about 10 minutes. The most time I spent was opening a can of black beans and shaking them under running water.

If you’ve got a toaster oven you’ve got the means to make this in a snap but are limited to only two at a time. Using a regular oven makes for more crowd appeal. Increase the amount of all ingredients as needed for the number of people you’re serving. I would imagine that adults could easily eat two or three of these. I myself managed to shotgun four without a blink of remorse.

But I was stuffed. Happy. But stuffed. Delicious as a main meal, this would also be perfect for a nice appetizer, and could easily be done on a grill with tantalizingly smoky results. The black beans make for a hearty and filling addition and no one will miss any meat in this. Fresh tomato gave it a summery flavor, and a crumble of queso fresco would be a nice addition just prior to eating them.

Black Bean Tostadas

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 t. chipotle en adobo
1-2 t. each ground cumin and chili powder
1 medium tomato, diced
1 c. frozen corn (no need to thaw)
1 avocado, diced
Corn tortillas
Pepper Jack, or Co-Jack cheese for topping
Lime wedges

Heat oven to 400°.

Place drained black beans in a small saucepan and add 1/3 cup of water, the chipotle en adobo, cumin and chili powder. Stir to combine and heat until simmering. Remove pan and mash beans coarsely with a sturdy wooden spoon. Add more water if needed to make beans spreadable, but not runny. You want them to be thick.

On a baking sheet, arrange corn tortillas and place in oven, turning once until tortillas are slightly firm. Remove pan from oven and carefully spread a few tablespoons of black bean mixture on them, then top with tomato, corn and diced avocado. Sprinkle a little cheese over them and return the pan to the oven. Bake until cheese is melted and tortillas are crispy around the edges, maybe 5 minutes. Squirt fresh lime juice over the tortillas before serving.

NOTE: Instead of using avocado chunks on the tostadas, mash the avocado with a little lime juice, salt and pepper and use either as a topping for the tostada when it comes out of the oven, or spread a thin layer atop the black beans before adding the other toppings and baking them. Either way you use it, it’s delicious.