Oh, hey there! Have a summer vegetable tart!

So my last posts on this blog were in March. Well, then. Here’s what I’ve been up to since then:

  • April: On the road 12 out of 30 days.  What does my house look like?
  • May: Please allow me to hide in my house until I leave the state for another week and then madly prepare for a board orientation for the day job.
  • June: Did I mention I was taking a stats class over the summer?  No Monday or Wednesday nights for you!  Oh, and most of your other nights are doing homework, lol.
  • Also June: You know what would be a great time to run a major conference? While you’re taking an intense summer stats class!
  • July: Stats class.  Oh, and running another major conference, because that’s just brilliant timing.
  • August: What better time to screw up my meds? (No thanks, insurance company.) I spent most of August hiding under a rock. (Except for the weekend I spend running around Gen Con dressed as one of the iconic characters from the Pathfinder RPG.)

I can’t say I’ve been making a ton of food until the last few weeks, and even then it’s been “easy mode” – baba ganouj, grilled corn and X meat.  Spouse has been taking on a lot more of the cooking than usual.  But I’m loving the summer produce that’s available.  Ohio’s peach crop was frost-killed this spring and lots of stuff has been later than usual, but we’re seeing lots of melons, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes (finally), squash, and even some cucumbers still – as well as the first apples of the season.

Last night I made this roasted vegetable tart with odds and ends lying around the house, and it was both easy and tasty.

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Here’s how it went:

  • One single-sheet pie crust (or two if you want to make a huge one).  I made mine from this recipe (the food processor does make it easy!) plus a half-teaspoon of extra-fine garlic powder for a bit of extra savory yum.  You could also use store bought pie crusts, puff pastry, or phyllo dough following the package instructions.
  • A medium bowl of summer veggies: I used two small eggplant, one medium yellow summer squash, one onion, four small sweet peppers, and a handful of cherry tomatoes which had all split on the vine due to the ridiculous amount of rain we got yesterday.
  • Some cheese.  I used goat cheese; you could also use feta, gruyere, parmesan, whatever.
  • Some kind of savory spread.  I used some olive tapenade that I got at Aldi a while back; you could also use bruchetta topping, hummus, a spreadable cheese or cheese-and-egg base, baba ganouj, whatever.

Slice/dice your veggies (except the tomatoes), toss them in a bit of olive oil, salt, and a splash of balsamic vinegar (or not).  Roast them at 425° for about 15 minutes or until they’re nice and tender.  Your onions should be translucent but nothing should be caramelized or burnt (unless you want them caramelized, in which case go a little longer.)

Do whatever you need to do with your dough situation to make it a single flat piece.  Or you could do several small tarts, in which case you want several small flat pieces.  Moral of the story: flat.  Spread your flat piece(s) of dough with the savory spread, but unless you’re using a pan which your dough fills edge to edge, you might want to stop a little before the edge.

Spread out your roasted veggies on your prepared dough-and-savory-spread situation.  You’ll want them a little bit layered, but not so high that they aren’t going to cook through.  Maybe 1″ high, tops.  I had leftover veggies, and I threw them in the fridge to make an awesome roasted veggie pita with later this week.

Put any tomatoes you plan to use on top.  You don’t have to slice small cherry/grape/pear tomatoes, but you might want to slice larger ones.  Apply cheese.  Fold up the edges of your dough, if that’s an appropriate thing to do with the type of dough you’re using.

Throw the whole thing back in the oven (still at 425°) for about 15 minutes or so, until the dough is a nice golden brown, the cheese is browned and/or bubbly depending on the type of cheese you chose, and it smells awesome.  Go find something engaging to do while it cools for 10 minutes (otherwise you’ll try to eat it too soon and burn the heck out of the roof of your mouth).

This thing is awesome warm and also awesome at room temperature, making it great for really hot days.  I suspect you might also be able to adapt this into a kind of hand-pie recipe and take them out picnicking.

Oh, and I realize it’s not Friday.  Too bad; you get food on Labor Day instead.

 

Check-in

Dear Blog and Readers,

I have not forgotten nor forsaken you. Though I have been absent for a couple weeks, its not for lack of desire, simply from lack of bandwidth. You see, instead of making a mere refinement to my routine, I upturned the apple cart and took my career into a new direction. Well, it was more like a return to an old direction, but it’s a new direction nonetheless. Anyways, this has required a lot of focus and writing and social media content creation on subjects new or recently unpracticed. It has been awesome. It has been crazy. Sometimes it has been a little overwhelming, but it’s also exhilarating. It has also meant that my posts here have simply not occurred.

Rest assured, my writing will continue. My thoughts on improving my own life bit by bit will continue and hopefully sometimes they will be helpful or encouraging to you as maybe-possibly-I-really-hope they have been before. Lyz has continued to write a whole bunch of Foodie Friday posts on cooking which totally rock. My intermittent pep talks of the usually non-culinary variety will resume shortly.

I hope you’re all well and that spring is finally coming to your neck of the woods.

“See” ya again next week,
Anthea

Foodie Friday: Chicken Paprikash

I discovered Chicken Paprikash in my Better Homes & Garden cookbook from about the year 1998 or so.  I made it a few times and enjoyed it, but when I got a new BHG cookbook a few years later, the recipe wasn’t included, and I kinda forgot about it.

But when one of my food bloggers, No Recipes guy Marc, posted a recipe for the stuff (right here), I was sold.  I have probably made it approximately one billion times since then.  It’s inexpensive, made with basic, readily available ingredients, relatively easy, and delicious.  Like, really delicious.

So you start with some chicken.  You can use any chicken you want, but legs/thighs are the best, and cheaper to boot.

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Then you chop up some onion, or slice it into wedges – whatever floats your boat:

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Heat up some high-heat-compatible fat in a skillet (I’m using bacon grease here):

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Season your chicken with salt and pepper, and toss it in, skin-side down.  Let it sizzle for a while, 3-4 minutes if you can.  You want the skin to get nice and brown.

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I am not quite so patient, but we’ve got a bit of browning going on.  Let the bottom side cook for a while, too.

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Then take the chicken out and set it aside. Throw your onions into the hot skillet and keep them moving until they’re starting to get translucent.  (The recipe I generally use now also includes a green or Anaheim pepper at this point, but I hardly ever have peppers lying around my house, and so I usually omit them.  It’s still delicious.)

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Then throw in your paprika.  Like, a lot of it.  A quarter-cup is not crazy, even though it seems crazy.  Give it a minute to get hot and sizzly and smell awesome.

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Then add in a bit of chicken stock – less than you might think – and stir that up.  Make sure you get all the tasty browned bits up from the bottom of the skillet, and get all your paprika dissolved/distributed.  Then add your browned chicken back in.

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Let that come up to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer.  It’ll be perfectly edible in 30-40 minutes; it’ll be divine after an hour or more.  Check it periodically to make sure the liquid hasn’t all wandered off – you want a bit left (but not much).  You might turn over the chicken once, too.

In the meantime, think about what you’d like to serve this luscious silky sauce and tender chicken over.  Rice is fine; egg noodles are fine.  Marc included in his post a recipe for dumplings, and I have fallen head over heels for it – I make these *all the time* these days.  It’s completely manageable for one person to do both the paprikash and the dumplings, but it’s also handy to divide up the work if you have a second person around.

You need one cup of flour, two eggs, and a few tablespoons of yogurt, buttermilk, milk, or even water if you’re in a pinch:

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Mix the eggs into the flour, and then add your third ingredient (milk, yogurt, creme fraiche, buttermilk, whatever) until it comes together into a dough.  This one came out a bit stickier than I preferred, but it doesn’t really matter.

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Boil some nicely-salted water (it should take like seawater).  I just use two forks to scrape blobs of the dumpling dough into my boiling water.  They’re done when they float, and you can just scoop them out with a slotted spoon.

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You might scowl at the imperfect shapes of these dumplings, but they’re actually the best thing ever.  All the folds and bumps and lumps are absolutely perfect for catching the sauce from the paprikash.  So while Marc suggests using some piece of kitchen equipment that I don’t own, I don’t think I would even if I owned it – these just come out so much better this way.

So, after an hour or so, your paprikash will look more or less like this:

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Your onions most likely will not magically convert from chopped squares to sliced wedges; I’m using photos from two different makings of this dish (within the last two weeks), which should tell you everything you need to know about how awesome it is.

Now you get to make the sauce wonderful.  Mix a few tablespoons of flour into a half-cup (or more) of sour cream or yogurt.  Then, you do what’s called “tempering” the dairy mix.  Dip into the beautiful red liquid in your skillet and dump a few tablespoons into the dairy bowl.  Stir that in.  Repeat this until your dairy is warm to the touch – mine ended up using almost a half-cup of the cooking liquid, although I may have used an inordinate amount of sour cream…

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Dump that into your skillet and stir it in.  It’ll be beautiful.

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And it’ll eventually end up looking about like this:

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Which you can then serve over your dumplings, where their imperfect shape will be absolutely perfect for the sauce.

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And if the lighting in your dining room sucks, like mine, the lovely red color will totally not show up in the photograph, but trust me, it’s still lovely. And even if it weren’t, who cares because it’s delicious.

This chicken was so tender that the bones just slid out of it, and the meat all but melted in your mouth.  The onions are like silk in the rich, creamy sauce over hearty, satisfying dumplings.

Did I mention that this is great winter food?  Yeah.  Totally.

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Foodie Friday: Accidental Heat

First, an apology: today’s post has no photos.

To be totally honest, I wasn’t planning to post anything today.  My spouse has taken over much of the cooking in the house lately, and this means that I’m taking even fewer photos than usual.  I came home exhausted from work, remembered that I had failed to post anything for today, and decided that the world wouldn’t end if I didn’t tell you all about meatloaf.

But then this very interesting thing happened with my meatloaf, and it was so interesting that I had to tell you all about it.

Now, you probably know that I”m not a big fan of spicy food (at least, you are if you happened upon my rant about spicy food in this post).  So I don’t generally make it.

At least, not on purpose.

So here I am, throwing together a meatloaf for dinner.  (I looooove meatloaf.  My mom has the best recipe and I use it all the time.)  I have a package of bulk sausage from a discount bundle from my local butcher shop, which I slice open and hurl a hunk of into my bowl.  As I’m moving on, I notice the edge of the package has written “wild country” on it.  And I think to myself, “Huh, I wonder what that’s about. Wild boar? Particularly interesting seasoning?”

And I give it zero additional thoughts as I make the rest of dinner – or at least, until I pull the meatloaf out of the microwave (ok, I’m putting this recipe below because now you must think I’m crazy) and go to pour off the fat to make gravy.  And I see all these little red flecks, and I think, “Wow, that sausage must have a lot of hot pepper in it, because I didn’t put anything else in it that would have anything like that.”

And I give it zero more thoughts, because I’m making gravy and mashed potatoes and roasting some broccoli – or at least, until I sit down at the table with my plate of meatloaf and fixins, and see again those little red flecks.  And I go, “Huh.  Wild country sausage, I get it.  I hope I can eat this.”

Well, as it turns out, it was delicious.  It was also fiery and painful, but armed with a giant pile of roasted broccoli, a mound of mashed potatoes, and a glass of water, I make my way through with more enjoyment than pain.

But here’s the really interesting part.  I finished my meatloaf, and then my broccoli, and move on to finish my mashed potatoes and gravy.  All of a sudden, I’m on fire again.  I think to myself “What on earth??  Are my potatoes somehow spicy?”

And then I got it.  Capsaicin, the stuff that makes hot foods hot, is oil-soluable.  Said gravy was made with the fat poured off from my awesome, accidentally spicy meatloaf.  Some of the capsaicin from the meatloaf had snuck into the gravy, giving it this long, slow burn that was hardly noticeable at first, but built up over time.

If you are a fan of spicy food, then you would have freaking loved this gravy.  I would never have thought to make spicy gravy (because I would never make spicy anything, because I don’t like causing myself pain. Spoilers: I also don’t beat myself with sticks.) – but I also don’t recall ever seeing spicy gravy offered or proposed anywhere. So if you like spicy stuff, I’d totally recommend it.  A sausage gravy for biscuits made with this stuff would be awesome.

So there you have it.  Accidentally spicy meatloaf and gravy.  The highlight of my night.

And if you’re interested in making your own, here you go.

Mix together about a half pound each of raw ground beef and sausage, add an egg, a small pile of breadcrumbs (1/2cup or so, enough to hold it together, fresh are a bit better than dry), a good squirt of ketchup, a few good shakes of Worcestershire, a big pinch of salt, a splash of milk, and a chopped onion. Get over yourself and just use your hands.

Shape it into a ring (yes, leave a hole in the middle) in a microwave-safe container, and put stuff on top if you want (ketchup, BBQ sauce, bacon, tonkatsu sauce, nothing, whatever).  Cover with a lid or waxed paper, and cook for 3 rounds of 7 minutes at 70% power, turning it about half a turn between each round.  (You can also do this in the oven; leave it uncovered, cook at 350 or so for 30-45 minutes; you can make a more traditional loaf shape if you do it this way.)

Pour off the fat when it’s done (careful, hot!) and use that to make gravy (or discard, if you’re a heretical person who doesn’t like gravy).  This is great to eat fresh out of the [microwave] oven, but it also makes great leftovers for future meals or meatloaf sandwiches.

But it’s not very photogenic, so don’t get your hopes up for beauty.  Let’s pretend that’s why I don’t have any pictures, ok?

Foodie Friday: Appetizers for Dinner!


I’ve been posting some things lately that have been some amount of work – either they take some prep and then go in the oven for a while, or they take a bunch of prep, or they take ongoing maintenance.

Not today.

Today, I bring you stupidly easy food.  Not only is this stupidly easy and equally fast, it really hits the spot.  You see, I’m a huge fan of appetizers: the menu of mouthwatering savory bits at a restaurant is sooo tempting.  But I can’t actually eat *that* much food, and I know that if I succumb to the appetizer, I won’t have room for my full entree (or worse, dessert!!)  So, tempting as they are, I hardly ever order them.

But.  I am also firmly of the mindset that these delicious treats shouldn’t be relegated to the hated “tempt-me-but-ruin-my-meal” section of the menu.  So it’s not terribly uncommon for me to make appetizer-type dishes for my main course.

Last night, that manifested as these wonderful chorizo-stuffed mushrooms.  I had a small package, about half a pound, of bulk chorizo from my wonderful local butcher shop, and having never made anything with chorizo before, I went Googling for recipes to use it in.

I used this recipe from A Spicy Perspective (odd, given my last post) as my basis – although I was absolutely stunned to discover that said blog was marketing these as appetizers – for Thanksgiving!  Talk about a time when I don’t want to ruin my appetite!!

Anyway, I’ve probably spent more time telling you about these than I spent making them.  It’s pretty straightforward.  Brown your bulk chorizo:

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If your chorizo comes in links, just slice open the casings and squish it out.

Clean your mushrooms and pop all the stems off.  Lay them on a baking sheet (I like to line mine with parchment paper) with the open side up:

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You want decent-sized mushrooms for this. The small ones were a little hard to stuff. This is a mix of cremini (baby bella) and regular white button mushrooms. Portobellas would probably be good too, although messy.

Take a half a block of cream cheese (or more; I ended up using the whole block, and while we’re at it I used the lower-fat Neufchatel) and some thyme.  You could use other spices or seasonings here, but I stuck to the original recipe:

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Mix in your browned, drained chorizo:

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Apply the filling to your mushrooms:

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And cover with some kind of cheese that will get all melty and browned.  I used some shredded manchego, but you could use mozzarella, parmesan, panela, monterey jack, cheddar, whatever.  The manchego was baller.

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Put it in a 400° oven for 15-20 minutes until it’s all melty and browned:

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I used the time they were in the oven to toss some simple salads so I had something green in my dinner.  But don’t let these little guys fool you: they are filling!  My spouse and I together were able to finish maybe half of these guys – the rest had to go back in the fridge for lunch today (not that I’m complaining).  But this totally fits with my narrative of “Who on earth would make these as an appetizer for Thanksgiving??”

Also, I think I spent maybe 10 minutes making dinner tonight.  These were stupidly easy.  And delicious.  You should make some.

That One Box

Today’s blog is about something that I’ve been carrying around with myself for a while: That One Box. You know the box, the one that sits in the back of your closet or in your basement? It hangs around and comes with your move after move, never being opened, yet somehow filled with “valuable” possessions that must be kept.

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That One Box in process

For me, That One Box came in the form of three boxes that I literally packed at some point at the end of grad school in 2009 and came with me from Texas to Illinois and back to Texas without ever being opened or completely sorted through. The craziest thing about this is I moved back to Texas with only what I could fit in my car and still I chose to bring those three boxes with me.

I’ve been in a brief time of transition in my life, and so I decided to tackle That One Box last weekend. You guys, it feels so good to have it done! Yeah, a large percentage of it was junk, but I also found sweet cards and handwritten letters from years ago. I found notes from classes that I’d like to reference and classes I’d rather forget. But most of all, knowing that space in my closet is clear and I’ve cut down on the clutter is a great.

Do you have That One Box hanging around? Consider this my personal encouragement to you to take a bit of time and sort through it. I bet ya it will be worth it.

Foodie Friday: [Lamb] Stew

We had a wonderful, beautiful, sunny, 55+ degree Saturday last week.  It was lovely.  Now it’s cold again, although at least it’s normal winter cold (lows in the 10s, highs in the 20-30s) and not stupidly absurdly cold, and the snow almost all melted.  I can deal with this.

But even normal winter likes nice warm cozy food.  Therefore, stew.  You can make stew out of just about anything: beef, lamb, veal, venison, goat.  I guess I probably wouldn’t make stew out of chicken or fish, because I have better things to do with those.

So anyway, you start with some vegetables.  I always include an onion and some carrots. This time I also put in some celery, half a sweet potato, and one very small sad turnip (you might also use parsnip, celery root, rutabaga, potatoes, etc.) – all chopped into bite-sized pieces:

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The onions and celery are separate from the carrots and other stuff because they’re going to go into the pot first.  These are what we call “aromatics” – things we cook first to make their flavor wonderful.  The other ones will go in later.

Then you’ll need  some stew meat.  I used lamb, because I had a small package of lamb stew meat from my local butcher.  You can buy your stew meat pre-cut, or you can buy a larger cut and cut it up yourself.  You don’t need tender cuts for this – stewing as a technique works best on tougher cuts with more connective tissue.

Mix up a handful of flour, salt and pepper:

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Then dredge (also known as “toss” or “push your meat pieces around until covered”) your meat in the flour mixture.  You want them all nicely covered, but not with giant lumps of flour attached. They should look like this:

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Great!  Set that aside for a few minutes.  (Out of reach of cats, dogs, small children, etc.)

Apply your favorite soup pot to the stove.  (The pot I’m using here was overkill for this batch of stew.) Put a blob of your favorite cooking fat into the pot – you might use vegetable oil, shortening, lard, or – my favorite – bacon grease!  You don’t want to use butter or olive oil, though – they’ll burn at the temperature you need them.

Get it good and hot:

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And then toss in your meat pieces:

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Brown them on one side (1-2 minutes) and then turn the pieces over and brown the other side:

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Om nom.  Some of the flour mixture will stick to the bottom of the pan and get all tasty and brown. You want this!

When your meat bits are browned, take them out and set them aside for another minute.  (Continue to keep out of reach of dogs, cats, small children, etc.)

Add your aromatics (onion, celery, garlic, etc.) to the pot and stir them around for a while:

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You want them to get a bit cooked but not browned, and do your best to start scraping up the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan:

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Then throw in your other veggies:

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I added my herbs at this point (rosemary and marjoram):

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And then you’ll wanna toss your meat back in:

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And enough broth to cover everything:

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While that’s coming up to a boil, add in some other seasonings.  Most red-meat stews can benefit from a bit of tomato paste:

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(Yes, I use my knife to get tomato paste from the can.  I also use my knife to get minced garlic, stock concentrate, and many other things out of jars.  I don’t want to get a bunch of spoons dirty.)

Now, stew is extremely flexible, but runs the risk of being exceptionally bland.  So add in your favorite seasonings.  Salt and pepper are mandatory.  My standard additions are A1 Steak Sauce (I don’t put it on steak, only in stew and pot roast) and worcestershire.  You could also add a bit of a seasoning blend (like a steak seasoning or Mrs. Dash), or a bunch of herbs like tarragon, chervil, savory, thyme, etc.  Goat in particular lends itself to some crazy seasonings like Jamaican jerk.  My rule of thumb is that if it smells good with the flavors already in your kitchen from getting you this far, it’ll probably be tasty.  A teaspoon total is a good measure for dried herbs and spices, a tablespoon each for any liquid flavorings – use these as starting points and adjust from there.

Stir it all together, bring it to a boil, and then turn down the heat and put a lid on it.  You want to let this stuff go for a while – probably around an hour if not more.  A few really cool things happen in this time.  The flour that mixed in with the fat when you browned the meat formed something akin to a roux, which during this time will thicken your stew into a nice rich texture.  The connective tissue in the meat will melt away, which makes the meat super-tender while making the stew even more rich in texture.  The flavors meld together (the tomato paste in particular, which almost vanishes and just leaves a subtle depth), the onions and carrots become lovely and sweet, and everything mellows out.

Incidentally, you can also make this whole thing in a crockpot.  Do everything exactly as described above, but switch to a crockpot after you cook up your onions and celery, and let it go on low for 8-10+ hours.

You can also make this recipe in larger quantities.  Just use more of everything.  It keeps well for leftovers and also freezes pretty well, so it’s a good option to make a bunch of.

Either way, when you get to where you want to be, it’ll look about like this:

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Except hopefully you chose a more appropriately-sized pot than I did.

I forgot to take a picture of it in a bowl, so let’s just pretend that you have a lovely photo here with a few sprigs of fresh herbs (that came from ??? because my herb garden froze over months ago) and some nice toasted french bread.  Or something.

Also, in case you’re wondering, I no longer have a vegetarian in the house.  Just so you don’t think I’m being a giant jerkface here.

The Art Assignment

Today’s post combines a few of my favorite things: friends, art, and YouTube.

As you may or may not know, according my college, I’m qualified to be a musician. I have spent countless hours of my past in rehearsals, lessons, practice rooms, and performing. I’ve always been inclined to be creative, experiment, try something a little outside of the box, but, goodness gracious, sitting on my couch and consuming someone else’s content is so much easier than pulling out my oboe, or my camera, or a blank Word document and making something my own! This blog is definitely part of the effort to bring some of that creativity back into my life regularly, and even that can be difficult for me to do sometimes. So, while I’m “artsy” in nature, my practice of creativity has somewhat waned recently.

But, I’m also one that likes a challenge, especially one that is creative but that I can also an accomplish. Enter The Art Assignment, hosted by curator Sarah Urist Green (wife of everyone’s favorite NYT Bestselling Author and Nerdfighter John Green) and co-produced by PBS Digital Studios.

The concept is simple: they enlist artists to give us all a creative project each week and post the video on their YouTube channel explaining it. The first assignment was just posted a few days ago, and the idea is to find a friend, choose the exact point halfway between the two of you, and meet there while documenting your journey to share it, too!

I’m really excited about this project, and can’t wait to see what they have in store for future weeks. In the meantime, who wants to meet in the middle with me? I think we could have some fun with this and add a bit of creativity to our lives to boot!

For more information, find/follow The Art Assignment on:

YouTube: youtube.com/theartassignment
Twitter: twitter.com/artassignment
Tumblr: theartassignment.tumblr.com
Facebook: facebook.com/theartassignment

Foodie Friday: Vegan Joes

Hey, look at me, actually posting a Foodie Friday on a Friday. It’s like maybe I sneakily wrote two posts this past weekend and scheduled one to go out ahead so I actually have something up on time for once. Who knew?

Anyway, let’s talk about Joe. In fact, let’s talk about several Joes. Vegan ones. Vegan Joes.

So I love sloppy joes – not gonna lie. They’re quick, easy, tasty, and a nice protein blast for gym days. But good ground beef is expensive, and for reasons that I haven’t really gotten into yet on this blog, I only buy good meat. So when I found this tasty recipe for sloppy joes that swaps out lentils for the ground beef, I was pretty much sold.

Lentils are awesome. They’re little, inexpensive, quick-cooking, buy-in-bulk-and-store-forever, protein-packed legumes. They come in a bunch of colors, from the thin red ones that melt away when you cook them to plain old brown ones to fancy marbled french puy ones to crazy black ones. There’s probably more out there – go to town. I usually keep a bin of brown lentils (usually the cheapest) in my pantry for things like this (or for this amazing mushroom-lentil pot pie that you should totally make if you haven’t yet).

The really awesome part about this particular recipe – originally from the Veganomicon – is that it’s super flexible. It calls for an onion and a yellow pepper. I usually have onions on hand; I rarely have yellow pepper – but it doesn’t matter! I’ve used just about everything else instead – from celery to turnips to eggplant to sweet potatoes. Today’s candidate was zucchini, left over from the package I purchased to make veggie lasagna a while back:

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First, though, you need to start your lentils. One cup lentils plus 4 cups water is the standard. In my world this translates to “some” lentils and “enough water to come to the second knuckle of my first finger.” I’m a really precise person when it comes to cooking. Bring to a boil and then turn them down and simmer. They’ll take about 20 minutes – just enough time to get the rest of everything going.

So, you chop up your onion and your zucchini a bit more finely than you normally would. The weirder your extra veggie, the more finely you want to chop it. (The turnips, for example, I chopped pretty darn small.)
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Put olive oil in your favorite big skillet or saucepan.  This is my favorite skillet.  It’s the most expensive pan I own, and it’s also my favorite – every time I use it, I’m always happy about it.  Worth every dollar.  It’s very sturdy, thick enough to distribute heat evenly, and 100% stainless steel – so I can throw it in the dishwasher, or the oven, or use a scrubby on it to get stuff off (unlike every other skillet in the universe, which is covered with useless, potentially-toxic, lifespan-dimishing, not-dishwasher-safe teflon).  And it has an extra handle opposite the long handle so I can carry it to the table.  And a lid.  Amazing.

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Add your onion and other vegetable, and sauté over medium-high heat until the onion is cooked enough to eat.  When it’s sautéed to your liking, add your seasonings – oregano and chili powder, according to the original recipe, but you can use whatever floats your boat.  Remember, adding your spices and herbs to the oil now (as opposed to the finished stuff later) makes the flavors better.  This is also a good time to point out that chili powder and other “hot” spices get hotter from this treatment – so you maybe want to go easy.

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Ok, rant time.  One of the big reasons I don’t eat more vegetarian or vegan food is because evidently the entirety of humanity that chooses not to eat meat has decided that they must make all of their food spicy instead.  No meat = must be spicy.  It’s like the veg*n cop-out: “This dish would be bland without meat, but I’m too lazy to put actual flavors in it, so I’ll just dump in all these chilis instead.”  Spicy food makes Lyz cry, but because flaming fiery pain is evidently the only flavor available in most veg*n cooking, most recipes are right out, brain-meltingly bland, or require me to figure out how to make them tastier.  (Usually I end up adding bacon or cheese – a pro strat for vegetarian food, right?)  This recipe, for example, calls for THREE FREAKING TABLESPOONS OF CHILI POWDER in a FOUR-SERVING RECIPE.  That’s almost ONE TABLESPOON PER SERVING.  DO YOU WANT ME TO DIE??

So I used a little less than one tablespoon in the version I made, and I often put in other spices as the whim strikes me.  See, doesn’t this look amazingly delicious?

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Then you’ll need some tomato paste and sauce. I was making a bit bigger of a batch here, so I’m going to use a little more than the recipe calls for – two cans of tomato sauce and one full can of paste. These little cans are stupidly cheap at Aldi and keep forever (the ones I used today expire in December… of 2015) so you should always have a few on hand.

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Add your tomato products to your skillet:

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And stir them up real good. Add some maple syrup (about two pancakes’ worth) and some plain yellow mustard (about two hot dogs’ worth). Bring them to a simmer and let them hang out and meld and become wonderful.

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Your lentils should be getting done around now. You’ll know when they stop being crunchy and are instead a texture really not unlike browned ground beef.

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Dump those into the skillet of goo, and mix them in. If you have a few minutes, let them hang out there together to soak up all the tastiness. (The book recommends 10 minutes.)

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I used this time to slice up this amazing fresh loaf of bread my spouse made. This bread, as it turns out, is not vegan, and so if you’re intent on keeping your dinner vegan, use vegan bread, rolls, buns, tortillas, rice, or just eat it plain.

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I gave up on eating sloppy joes on buns a long time ago. Now I eat them open-faced with a fork, because I’m old and have no sense of fun in my life anymore. But I do put home-canned bread-and-butter pickles on them, because they are amazing things and really go very well with sloppy joes.

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Bonus points – this recipe keeps *very* well in the fridge, so you can make a whole bunch and then use the leftovers for lunch at work during the coming week.  And it’s cheap – I think this whole giant skillet may have cost a total of $5 in ingredients.

Foodie Friday: Stupid-Simple Butternut Squash Soup – with Bonus Biscuits!

Well, then. Hello, Sunday! The weather here has only gotten better insofar as it no longer hurts your face to go outside – it’s still mostly gray, sloppy, and cold. My day job is still bonkers, and because that wasn’t enough for my crazy self, I also took on a pretty big freelance gig with a pretty tight turnaround. Such is my life.  I hope you can all forgive me.

Thankfully, I have a spouse who is willing to make dinner.

On the one night this week I did get to cook myself, I wanted easy, warm, and cozy food. I’m also still working on a budget, and I still have a vegetarian in the house. (Vegetarians are great; I just need more practice at cooking veggie-friendly food.) So of course, I decided that soup is the way to go.

Butternut squash is warm and cozy no matter what you do with it.  Soup is kind of a cop-out with this wonderful veggie, but it’s such a delicious cop-out that I don’t mind.  It’s very quick – maybe 30 minutes start to finish? – and very flexible.

So, we start with Le Butternut Squash:

These things last forever, by the way.  Buy enough in the fall to last until the following May, and just store them somewhere cool and dry.

These things last forever, by the way. Buy enough in the fall to last until the following May, and just store them somewhere cool and dry.  I use about one a month.  (Bonus points, sometimes they’re hilariously phallic!)

So you want to start by peeling and cubing your squash.  First, I want to say that peeling any other squash is a royal pain in the ass, so don’t even try it with anything else.  Second, the only way to peel butternut squash is with a very sharp steel or ceramic peeler – then it’s actually pretty easy.

This is probably ~4-5 cups of squash cubes.  You can buy pre-cut squash if you'd like.

This is probably ~4-5 cups of squash cubes.

You can also buy this stuff pre-cut at the grocery store these days.  Or, if you want to DIY but don’t have a sharp peeler, you can halve the thing longways and either roast it with a little olive oil, S&P (350°) for about 45 minutes (drool), or nuke it for 5-10 (fast!).  These latter two options have an extra bonus of reducing the simmer time for the soup itself.

Ok, squash get!  Now chop up an onion:

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And throw it into a soup pot (also known as a kettle, pasta pot, or very large saucepan) with some olive oil over medium-high heat.

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Then throw in the squash, assuming you haven’t otherwise cooked it yet:

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You’re gonna cook this stuff for a while, maybe 5-10 minutes or more, until the onion is translucent and maybe juuuust beginning to brown. Stir occasionally – you want the heat high enough to do something but low enough that you don’t have to stand there tending it the whole time.  You can use this intermediate time to do something like make a salad or whip up a batch of biscuits.  Hmm…biscuits…

Once your onions look tasty (the squash won’t look anything more than a bit soft/wet on the sides – it won’t brown), add about 4 cups of broth.  If you have pre-cooked your squash, now is the time to add it. I used vegetable broth made from Better than Bullion, but I’ll often use homemade chicken stock.  Bring that up to a boil and then turn it down to simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Put a lid on it if you have one handy.

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You may need more or less liquid depending on how much squash you have. You want just enough that your squash cubes are just covered.

It was about this time that I decided I wanted biscuits with my soup – nice cheesy herby biscuits. So I started working on those. They’re easy-peasy – you just take your favorite biscuit recipe (even Bisquick) and stir in some shredded cheese and herbs when you mix the wet and dry ingredients.

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Shredded smoked gouda, and dried parsley, dill, sage, and savory. Savory, as it turns out, is a cranky little plant and will stab you if you try to rub it to break it down, so don’t try to rub it with your fingers.

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Dry ingredients!

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Wet ingredient!

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They’re mixed together! It’s biscuit dough!

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Biscuit dough on the baking tray! Here’s where you want to learn from my mistakes – if your biscuits have cheese in them, use parchment paper on your baking sheet.

Then I decided I wanted decadent biscuits, so I brushed them with melted garlic butter.

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Into the oven with those bad boys – whatever your biscuit recipe tells you.  Mine took a little longer than advertised.

When those get close to being done in the oven, you want to blend up and season your soup.  I have a stick blender that I totally love for this kind of thing, but you can use a regular blender, too – just let the soup cool a bit and be careful.  I blend the everliving daylights out of mine, since I like a silky velvety soup like the ones I ate in Australia a few years ago.

Now, seasonings.  Salt and pepper is almost mandatory, but from there, you can do wherever you’d like. For an eastern style, try adding some coconut milk, ginger, and curry powder.  You could do a southwestern hint with lime juice and chili powder.  A sweet-style soup might have a bit of maple syrup and maybe some cloves, mace, or allspice.  You can add some cream or crème fraîche or yogurt if you’d like a creamier soup.  I ended up using salt, pepper, and just a hint of ginger and curry – just enough to add some flavor complexity, not enough to make it taste like squash curry.

You may have to reheat the soup a bit depending on how much stuff you put in it and how cold it was.  Do that.  Then serve this soup with your wonderful cheesy-herby-buttery biscuits.

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Le Wonderful Soup. This pot may have been overkill, but better too big than too small.

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And the biscuits, in all their cheesy-herby-golden-brown-glory.