Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos

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How in the world is it already May? April was a total blur. March was too, come to think of it. I met a bunch of new people. I moved. Last week I got sick for the first time since last May and it was terrible. And in the midst of it all, May sneaked up on us just like a bad cold. But now, I get the feeling things have settled a bit. Seven weeks or so of whirlwindy-ness and now I think I can chill out a bit. Just in time for Cinco de Mayo. A day on which, in order to counter all the chips and tequila I’ll probably be ingesting like it’s my job, I’ll probably also be making these tacos.

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And just like colds and spring weather and the month of May, these tacos are sneaky. They’re spicy and limey and crunchy enough that they feel like the carnitas tacos you’ll stuff your face with to end Cinco de Mayo (buried under a whole mountain of sour cream  and guacamole of course). But these sneaky guys are totally healthy! You’ve got sweet potatoes, black beans, cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. That’s it! Plus tortillas. These are the tacos you’ll want to start your night with, when vegetables of the non-fried variety still sound good. And then you’ll want to make them the next day and the next day and the next so you can feel like your cheating on your healthy eating streak and your grocery budget when really you’re being quite faithful to both. Let’s do it.

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These tacos are crunchy, fresh, and just a bit spicy. Plus, you know, they’re tacos. Can’t really go wrong there.

 

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos

Adapted a teeny bit from Joy the Baker

Serves 1 with a little leftover or 2 as an appetizer/snack

 

1 medium sweet potato, chopped

splash olive oil/butter

generous sprinkle of cumin

pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained

 

small corn tortillas

1/4 head cabbage, shredded

1/2 red onion, sliced

chopped cilantro to taste

lime juice to taste

 

Place the butter or oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once it’s hot, add the cumin and pepper flakes and cook for a minute or so until fragrant. Add in the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring every so often, until they are softened and a little charred. Add in the black beans and cook until they are heated through, a minute or two more.

Meanwhile heat the tortillas however you like. Microwave, over a gas stove burner, or in oil.

To assemble, divide the sweet potato/black bean mixture between the tortillas. Top with cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Enjoy!


Homemade Thin Crust Pizza

ImagePizza crust is one of those mega-polarizing topics that really doesn’t seem important until you’re sharing a pizza at a restaurant with friends and there’s no chance of a consensus on whether to get thin crust or thick crust. I stand firmly on the thin crust side of the debate. Because not only does a little crispiness make just about anything a little better, but mostly because pizza is really about the toppings. Another one of those foods where the ratio is important.

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(okay, maybe I did roll this out a little too thin, but it still held up beautifully)

Why drown the toppings in crust? Or sauce or cheese for that matter. When it comes to pizza, I think a little goes a long way for every ingredient. Nothing overpowers the whole thing, nothing gets completely brushed under the covers of too much crust. Thin crust gives everything (including itself) a chance to shine. You really get the best of all worlds when you go for the thin crust pizza. Seriously.

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This crust is delicious. It’s nice and thin but doesn’t get soggy at all, which is key in thin crust land. For toppings, we did tomato sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, caramelized onion, artichoke hearts, basil, and a little goat cheese. Everything in moderation. It was perfect. But the great thing about pizza dough is that it’s essentially a food canvas. Do whatever you want!

 

Homemade Thin Crust Pizza Dough

From The Kitchn

Makes 2 10-inch pizzas

 

3/4 cup (6 ounces) lukewarm water

1 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast

2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose-flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

 

Combine the water and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Stir until the yeast dissolves. Add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture. Mix with wooden spoon or your hand until a shaggy dough forms.

Turn the dough, along with any flour remaining in the bowl, out onto a clean work surface. Knead about 5 minutes, until the flour is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will feel moist and slightly tacky. If it’s sticking to the counter and your hands like gum, knead in more flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough is smooth.

At this point, you can let the dough rise until you need it or until doubled in size, about 90 minutes. After rising, the dough will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days.

For the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 or as hot as it will go for at least half an hour before baking the pizza. If using a pizza stone, place it in the oven before turning the oven on.

When ready to make the pizza, get two 12-inch wide pieces of parchment paper. Cut the dough in half with a bench scraper or sharp knife. Working one piece of dough at a time, make a large disk with your hands and place it on the parchment.

Use the heels of your hand to press and stretch the dough gently until it’s 1/4 inch thick at most. If you want it extra thin like I did, use a rolling pin. If the dough starts shrinking back you can let it rest for 5 minutes and then start working it again.

Top your pizza dough with whatever you want. Using a pizza peel or the bottom of a cookie sheet, slide the pizza (with the parchment) onto the pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone, just cook it on a baking sheet. That’s what I did. No one will know the difference.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating and removing the parchment halfway through. When it’s done, the crust will be golden brown. Cook until your cheese is melted and a little toasty.

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before slicing.

 


Quinoa and Winter Fruit Salad with Arugula

ImageA couple weeks ago, I was stuck in a lunch rut. Since starting my 9-5 desk job I’ve tried to keep my lunches as interesting and varied as possible, since, sadly, unless there’s a holiday potluck or it’s time for the monthly birthday party, I can pretty much guarantee lunch is the most exciting part of my day. I’d been through a pretty lengthy hummus-and-veggies stage, a salami sandwich phase, a few failed attempts at a salad phase (it just never tastes as good as I think it will), a pretty delightful peanut butter and jelly phase, and a random snacks all day phase.

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Needless to say I needed to change my game a bit. I like the idea of salad, but it was just never filling enough to make the cut, even if I did add tons of vegetables and beans. So I thought if I made the salad out of something hearty and filling and just happened to add a few greens to it, that might be just the thing that could get me out of my lunch rut.

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So I did a little poking around, knowing I wanted to use quinoa because not only is it a complete protein, it’s totally delicious. I found this winter fruit salad, changed a couple things when I couldn’t find the ingredients, and it totally did the trick! I think I’ve pulled myself out of my lunch rut. For now at least. I’ve made two other quinoa salads after this one, so we’ll see how long this phase lasts.

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Quinoa is a great salad base. It’s healthy but also has a great nutty flavor. This one is packed with winter fruits. I added black beans to make this salad even more hearty, and the arugula gives it a nice spicy kick.

Quinoa and Winter Fruit Salad with Arugula

Adapted from foodandwine.com

4-6 servings

1 1/3 cups quinoa (about 1/2 pound)

1 2/3 cups water

1 tangerine, segmented, seeded, and chopped

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

1/4 cup pure olive oil

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 bag arugula

Rinse the quinoa for 2-3 minutes with cold water in a mesh strainer. This will take away the bitterness. Place the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and simmer until the water is nearly all absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let steam for 5 minutes. Place the quinoa in a large bowl and let cool completely.

In a small bowl, add the tangerine, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, and let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the pear, cucumber, and black beans to the cooled quinoa and toss. Add the dressing and toss until absorbed. If you’ll be serving/eating all the salad at the same time, add in the arugula and toss. If you want to eat it over a few days, only sever with as much arugula as you need, and refrigerate the leftover quinoa separate from the arugula.


Thai Beef Stew with Lemongrass and Rice Noodles

ImageI have a few things to say about this stew that aren’t necessarily related to each other, except for the fact that they’re all relevant to this stew. So I’m just going to list them, not really in any particular order, because lists are the only way to organize un-organizable things.

1. Lemongrass is both far more sturdy than I expected and way more fragrant when you have it at hand than in a smoothie or whatever else you can find it in. Seriously though. I was legitimately worried for the integrity of the blade of my knife while trying to slice the lemongrass. My arms got tired. My hand got a cramp. But the smell…..it smells sooooo gooooood.

2. Cooking rice noodles is really easy. Perfect for lazy people like me who still haven’t figured out how to be woken up by an alarm clock. All you have to do is put the rice noodles in a heat-proof bowl, boil some water, pour the water over the noodles, submerge them, and make sure they don’t get too mushy. The Kitchn has a really helpful tutorial.

Image3. The first step of this recipe calls for the use of a food processor. Something I don’t have. But I remembered the time I made pesto without a food processor, using this great recipe from 101 Cookbooks, where you stand at the counter with a knife for about 40 minutes, chopping and chopping until your wrist feels to weak to keep your hand attached to your arm, until finally what your chopping is almost as finely chopped as it would have been in a Cuisinart. So I figured I could do the same thing for this stew. Yes, it’s a pain, and time consuming, but put some music on and have a dance party and just think of all the stress you’re letting out with all that chopping!

4. I’m not sure this stew qualifies as a Valentine’s Day recipe, given the lack of pink/red/whipped cream/strawberries/chocolate/champagne, but if you’ve got some time and want to impress someone without garlic breath overload, this is the recipe for you.

I’m not going to lie, this recipe takes some work and some time. Though significantly less if you have a food processor and don’t do it the crazy way like I did. Here are the ingredients:

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First, the lemongrass. Chop off the a couple inches at the bottom and about 4 inches at the top. Then, peel away a few outer layers.

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Then we’ll chop it up with some garlic, ginger, and peppers. And process until we get a paste or something close enough to a paste.

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Next we’ll brown the meat. I only have a picture of the end result because of all the boiling, jumping-out-of-the-pan oil involved. (And I now realize those silver tongs are a little menacing.)

ImageNow, that pepper-lemongrass paste? We’re going to cook it with a cinnamon stick and a couple anise pods.

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Then we’ll add the beef and some water and let it simmer for a couple hours. Meanwhile, we toast some coconut to put on top.

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When the meat is tender, we’ll add in some carrots and shallots and let it cook a bit longer.

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You’ll know it’s done when the meat starts falling apart. Then you’ll add in some scallions and it’s done! Sprinkle some coconut flakes on top and serve with rice noodles and a lime wedge.

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This stew is perfectly spiced and the meat literally falls apart. The coconut and cinnamon add just a touch of sweetness, and the anise a little licorice-y flavor that’s just what the stew needs. It’s worth taking Friday afternoon off. Promise.

Thai Beef Stew with Lemongrass and Rice Noodles

Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, February 2014, original recipe is also here

Serves 6 (and makes great leftovers)

4 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, tough outer layers removed, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger

2 red Thai chiles, with seeds, sliced (I couldn’t find any 😦 so I used serranos which are too tame for this stew, I think)

3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 whole star anise pods

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

4 medium shallots, quartered

1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths, halved if large

4 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths

8 oz wide rice noodles (I could only find skinny ones, wide ones will have to sit a little longer in the hot water)

lime wedges for serving

Place the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and chiles in a food processor and process until a fine paste forms.

Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches, brown the beef on all sides, about 10-15 minutes. (I used my cast iron pot for this recipe and did not leave the beef in there for that long – once the pan got hot the beef browned in about 30 seconds per side. And since it’s going to cook for 3+ hours there’s no need to worry about it being undercooked.) Transfer the browned meat to a bowl.

In the same pot, cook the lemongrass paste until the lemongrass begins to soften, 5-8 minutes. (How you’re supposed to tell when the lemongrass is softening when it’s a paste, I have no idea, but that’s what the recipe says.) Add the star anise, cinnamon, soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, beef with any juices, and 10 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer partially covered for 2 1/2-3 hours, until beef is tender and the liquid slightly thickened. Skim occasionally.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast the coconut flakes on a baking sheet until golden around the edges, about 4 minutes. If you can smell it, it’s done!

When the beef is fork-tender, add the shallots and carrots to the stew. Cook partially covered another 35-45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the beef is falling apart. (Mine took a little less time than that.) Add the scallions at the last minute; they will wilt slightly.

While the stew cooks for its last 10 or so minutes, cook the rice noodles according to package directions.

Divide the noodles between bowls and ladle the stew over them. Top with toasted coconut and more scallions and serve with lime wedges.

Can be made 3 days ahead without the noodles. Let cool, cover, and chill.


Lemon Chickpea Risotto

ImageThis week was an odd one. Schedules got switched around a lot. Rush projects got started at work. We scrambled to get them started and keep them on track until later the next day, suddenly they weren’t rush anymore. Another project that we thought had been cancelled actually shouldn’t have been canceled, and I’d spent most of the day before working on the one that should have been canceled, staying a little later into the evening than I want to talk about. All day Wednesday I thought it was Thursday. By Friday, the week had gone on way. too. long.

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Even though I couldn’t shake the weirdness of this week there were some good things too. Wednesday evening saw a much-needed venting session with coworkers over pizza and beer. Thursday, we woke up to snow! A good 6 inches of it. For the second time this winter, which is about as rare in the Northwest as sunny days are in winter. Friday the snow continued and now we have a foot and half and it’s glorious. That night included getting stuck in a snowy parking lot, crockpot chili, chocolate chip cookies right from the oven, and too many rounds of the endlessly agonizing game Set (the ease of which, if you’re wondering, has an inverse relationship to the amount of gin you’ve had).

So, a weird week, but not a bad one. If I’d had a batch of this risotto sitting in my fridge to comfort me all week, it would have been better. If you’ve never made risotto before, the effort to result ratio is pretty great. No, you don’t get to step away from the pan, but it’s not a difficult thing to make, and the risotto is hearty and filling and warming and just cheesy and rich enough to really feel like an indulgence.

Risotto starts with arborio rice (buy it cheap in the bulk section!), onion, lemon zest, fresh thyme, chili flakes, salt, and pepper in a big skillet. And butter, of course.

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Everything gets stirred around a bit until the butter melts and rice is translucent. (It’s not quite translucent status in this picture.)

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Then, we add broth to the risotto, let the rice absorb it, stir, and repeat! Simple.

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Then because risotto requires cheese, some grated parmesan gets tossed into the mix.

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And finally, to add some actual nutrition and protein to this wonderful cheesy mess, we add in some chickpeas.

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Give it another stir, a few more minutes on the stove, and your risotto is done!

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Top your risotto with some more grated parmesan, a little pepper, and your weird week just got a little better.

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This risotto is good. Really good.

Lemon Chickpea Risotto

Adapted from The Vegetable Life and Joy the Baker

Serves 6-8

12 ounces arborio rice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

pinch salt (go light on the salt or omit it if you want – the parmesan is plenty salty on its own)

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I recommend low-sodium, again because of the parmesan)

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

more parmesan, pepper, lemon, and thyme for topping

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the rice, butter, onion, lemon zest, pepper flakes, pepper, and salt to the hot pan. Cook until the butter has melted and the rice and onion are translucent.

Stir one cup of the broth into the rice mixture and allow to simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, then give it a stir. Repeat with the remaining three cups of broth, until all liquid is absorbed, the rice is tender, and 18-20 minutes have gone by.

Add the parmesan to the rice and stir until completely combined. Add in the chickpeas, stir, and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until heated through.

Top with pepper/lemon zest/cheese and enjoy immediately while it’s warm! This keeps well in the fridge for about 5 days, and is equally delicious eaten cold or reheated.


Salmon Patties with Meyer Lemon Relish

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At the risk of aging myself at least a couple decades and possibly revealing that I’m actually a time traveler born in the 50s, I have a little confession: I adore salmon patties. Full on canned salmon, butter, grandma-style salmon patties. I probably make them at least every other week. And since I make them so often, I’m always looking for ways to spice them up a bit. Switching the white onion for green onion, adding in some sriracha and a little soy sauce, you name it.

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I’ve had my eye on this meyer lemon relish for quite a while. But I never got around to making it before because the original recipe has it paired with slow-and-low baked fresh salmon – which, don’t get me wrong, sounds wonderful, but also unjustifiable at $18 a pound when I only have to feed myself. But then, my aunt sent me some meyer lemons from her tree, and I knew I couldn’t pass up this relish any longer. So I decided it would be a great way to change up my salmon patty routine without spending 10 bucks on salmon for two dinners. And great it was.

Meyer lemons are a cross between lemons and madarin oranges. They’re sweeter than regular lemons and have a nice thin, soft peel that’s thin enough to eat. This relish is light and refreshing and a perfect way to get myself out of a salmon patty rut. I’m sure it would be even better with fresh salmon.

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Meyer Lemon Relish

From Yummy Supper

1 large shallot, minced

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice (I used the vinegar)

sea salt

1 large meyer lemon

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, let the minced shallot sit in the vinegar or lemon juice for 15 minutes with a pinch of sea salt. Leaving the skin on, cut the lemon into 8 wedges. Take out the seeds and core. Cut the wedges in half lengthwise. Then, thinly slice them crosswise. Add the olive oil and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Salmon Patties

Makes 2

1 can salmon (the small-sized one)

1/4 white onion, chopped

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg

pinch red pepper flakes

salt and pepper

butter

possible add-ins/substitutions: use green onion instead of white onion, add in hot sauce or soy sauce or chives, etc. This time, I added in a little parsley since I had some leftover from the lemon relish.

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Form into two patties, making a small depression in the center of each one. Melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Place the patties in the pan, and cook for about 4 minutes, until browned and slightly crispy. Flip the patties and cook for another 3-4 minutes on the second side, until browned and heated through.

Top the patties with lemon relish and enjoy. I ate the salmon patties over wild rice, but they are also great over pasta, and I’m sure a nice crusty loaf of bread would be fantastic as well.

A cooked salmon patty will last a couple days in the fridge and reheat well.


Chili (with Mashed Potatoes)

ImageI know what you’re thinking…chili and mashed potatoes? No cornbread?! Sounds like a giant bowl of mush, why don’t I just go buy myself a few jars of baby food while I’m at it? Well, to any nay-sayers out there, I say, give it a try. This is how my grandpa ate chili and not to toot my own horn or anything (wow, does that make me sound like I’m old enough to be a grandparent?), but he was a pretty freakin’ smart guy. Every time we had a big, cozy, winter family dinner that involved chili, my grandma made some mashed potatoes for those who chose to take their chili from good (maybe a little plain) to wonderful.

I’ve made this chili quite a few times since I’ve been cooking for myself, but this is the first time I’ve made mashed potatoes to go along with it. Don’t ask me why I’ve been denying myself the pleasure of chili and mashed potatoes for the last few years. But this time, I HAD to have mashed potatoes with it. Good decision? Great decision.

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As with lots of foods, like pie or cake or sandwiches, the ratio here is critical. I think a 2:1-ish ratio of chili to mashed potatoes is perfect. Any more potatoes, and then yes, it does get kind of ruined and turn a little mushy. Any less than that, and there aren’t enough mashed potatoes to go around. One big spoonful of mashed potatoes, two ladle-fulls of chili, and you’re on your way to a revelation.

Ingredients. This is ALL the prepping you have to do! Chop an onion and some garlic and open a few cans. Oh, and chop a potato, of course.

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Mashed potatoes! And butter.

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Mmmmmm. A bowl of warmth.

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This is a perfect recipe to make while it’s freezing outside. Up here in the northwest we’re having our normal rain, but if you’re stuck with a -40 windchill, this is an easy thing to make and you might already have all the ingredients!

Chili (with mashed potatoes)

Serves 8

2 pounds ground beef (ground turkey is good too)

1 white onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, grated

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 15-oz can chili beans

1 15-oz can kidney beans

1 15-oz can pinto beans

1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the ground beef and onion. If your beef/turkey is quite lean, or if you’re using a cast iron pot, add a couple tablespoons of oil to the pot as well. Break up the ground beef a bit and let the meat and onion cook until the meat is almost cooked through. No need to drain the pot, but you can if you want. Add in the garlic and cook for another couple minutes. Add in the chili powder, beans (don’t drain them), and tomatoes, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until heated through. If you want a thicker chili (that’s how I like it), let more of the liquid boil off. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot. This chili lasts for a good 5 days in the fridge and probably up to a week, but I can never keep it around that long. It also freezes very well.

Mashed Potatoes

Enough for 2 to have with chili, multiply as necessary

1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces

About 2 tablespoons milk

Butter (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

While the chili cooks, boil the potato pieces until soft when poked with a fork, 15-20 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl. Mash the potato and add in the milk until desired consistency is reached. I like to mix a little butter in mine as well, but that’s totally up to you. Salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mashed potatoes between 2 bowls and serve the chili on top. Top with whatever you like – cheese, fresh chopped onion, crackers, green onion…and enjoy the warmth.


Couscous with Broccoli, Pecans, and Garlic

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I think it’s probably too late to say, “Happy New Year,” but I hope the first few days of your 2014 have been wonderful. I rang in the new year by going to bed right after midnight and waking up at 5:30 on New Year’s Day to ski. This is the second year in a row that I’ve skied on January 1st, and I think I want to make it a tradition. It feels so much better than waking up at 11am, groggy and headachy, lazing around all day and eating a big dinner. I’ve got the whole year to laze around, and I think dragging my butt out of bed on the first day of the new year is a good way to set the tone for the other 364 days ahead.

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Now that I’ve started my year off with a few go-get-it type of days, I hope I can keep it up in the coming months. This year I’m not making any resolutions, because those things don’t really tend to work anyway. They’re like the opposite of quitting a habit cold turkey. Starting a habit cold turkey. December 31st, I’ve spent the last two months not working out because I’m too busy Christmas shopping and eating too many cookies and pies, and now it’s January 1st and I’m supposed to be a paleo-dieting gym rat who always goes to bed at a decent hour and wakes up early to do yoga and make a super-healthy salad to bring to work for lunch? Yeah….not happening. At least not right away.

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So this year I’m focusing on the long term. Should I be healthier and create new, better habits and whatnot? Should I be on the lookout for ways to make myself and my life better? Sure, but it’s not going to happen in a day, a week, or even a month. This year, when I’m not feeling motivated to do anything or I forget to keep an eye out on my goals, I’m going to think back to the first day of the year when I woke up at 5:30, lay in bed for an hour debating with myself about whether the three-hour drive to the mountain was worth it, decided it was, and then when I got home at 8:00, realized that going was the best thing I could have done for myself. This year, I’m going to focus on making improvements simply by deciding to do things.

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This is a simple recipe for a quick, healthy, and satisfying dinner. The the broccoli will give you your vegetable for the day, the garlic adds a kick and the pecans make it seem richer than it really is.

Couscous with Broccoli, Pecans, and Garlic

serves 1

1/2 cup pearl couscous

2 tablespoons olive oil

pinch red pepper flakes

1/4-1/3 small head broccoli, chopped into bite-size pieces

handful of pecans, chopped (walnuts or almonds or cashews would work too)

2 cloves garlic, minced

In a small saucepan, bring some water to a boil. Add the couscous and let it cook until done, about 11 minutes.

While the couscous cooks, heat a frying pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add in the pepper flakes and broccoli. Cook until the broccoli is bright green, then add in the pecans. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then add in the garlic and cook for a minute or two more. Be careful to not let the nuts or garlic burn.

When the couscous is done, drain in a fine mesh strainer, place in a bowl, and stir in a small amount of olive oil or butter. Add in the broccoli mixture, salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.


Sicilian Beef and Tomato Stew

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At one point while I was making this stew, I had the tomato, garlic, and basil all lined up on my cutting board, and a strange thought popped into my head, completely on its own. Huh. That looks like the Italian flag. The next thought that popped into my head was not that it would be kind of absurd for a country to base its flag on its food, though that’s probably what I should have thought. Nope. Instead, I thought, Wait. Tomatoes came from Mexico. Which I learned in some Spanish class where we focused on everything Europeans took back with them after coming to the Americas (tomatoes, chocolate, corn, potatoes….). So even if the Italian flag is based on food – obviously it’s not – the red can’t be tomatoes.

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Then I had a hunch. Basil probably isn’t native to Italy either. Why this train of thought continued for so long I have no idea. And if you haven’t given up on this post yet, we should probably be friends. Anyway, turns out my hunch was right. Basil is native to Southeast Asia. And that’s where my weird train of thought finally ended.

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And then, I got curious so I did a little research. Garlic is also native to Asia. The flag of Italy, of course, does not take its colors from basil, garlic, and tomatoes, but its green hills, snowy Alps, and bloody independence wars. Or hope, faith, and charity, from a more theological interpretation. Now we’ve all learned something new, thanks so my wandering stream of consciousness. Regardless of its ingredients’ resemblance to the Italian flag, the leftovers from this stew were wonderful to come home to on Friday, which was what will probably be the only day it snows in my town all winter.

This stew is yet another great one from Real Stew, a book which has yet to disappoint me. It starts with chopped onion practically swimming in olive oil.

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Now for the red, white, and green.

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Cover and simmer 3 hours, and dinner’s ready.

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Home-Style Beef and Tomato Stew from Sicily

From Real Stew

Makes 4 servings

Time: about an hour for prep, then 3 hours of waiting while it cooks

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 pounds boneless stew beef, trimmed of any large pieces of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

2 large garlic cloves, slices

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves

1 bay leaf

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a casserole over medium-high heat. (I used the cast iron pot my mom got me for Christmas last year. I love that thing.) Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the beef, season with salt, and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes.

Whisk together the tomato paste and wine and stir into the casserole. Cook about 5 minutes, until the wine is nearly evaporated.

Add the tomatoes, water to cover (recipe says 1/2 cup but I used a little over 1 cup), garlic, basil, and bay leaf, and season with pepper. Cover the pot, reduce heat to very low, and simmer about 3 hours, until the meat is very tender. Remove the bay leaf. Serve immediately.

This is great as leftovers, and will keep well for 4-5 days. if you want to vary your leftover routine a bit, a small-ish portion of this stew is great over pasta.


Mom’s Tomato Sauce with Pan-Fried Polenta

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Putting a phrase like “Mom’s Tomato Sauce” in the title of a post seems so pretentious. As if my mom’s cooking is so far beyond the level of what you or your mom could make. I’m basically piloting a low-flying plane around a sold-out football stadium, trailing a ginormous banner that proclaims in all caps: MY MOM’S TOMATO SAUCE IS BETTER THAN YOUR MOM’S. OR ANYONE’S, EVER. SUCKS TO BE YOU. And a buzzed football fan starts yelling uselessly at me in my little biplane as I do a few laps to drive the point in. But then the guy in the row behind him starts yelling too, and it escalates into a brawl, and now there’s a bloody nose and I’m just innocently trying to brag about this sauce.

Don’t worry, I’m not pretentious enough to brag about my mom’s cooking on a football-stadium scale. This is as far as I’ll go. And ridiculous as that totally-impossible situation is, my mother is a darn good cook, people. Your mother is a great cook too, but I would put a hefty bet on the fact that my mom’s tomato sauce is the best. I could probably eat a bowl of it plain with no accompaniment. And I don’t even like tomatoes (true story). This isn’t your runny, odd-smelling, over-seasoned restaurant marinara. It’s chunky, hearty, and respectably seasoned. It’s easy and inexpensive to make. But best of all, it tastes like home.

This is what we start with. My mother is forever brand-loyal to these Cento che’f cut tomatoes, but any 28-oz can will work. In the wrapper is hot Italian sausage. Polenta’s not going in the sauce, it just sneaked in for this picture.

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Cook the Italian sausage, breaking it up into bite-size pieces. This can totally be vegetarian, too. Or you can use ground hamburger or turkey.

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Chop up half the onion and a few cloves of garlic and toss them in with the sausage.

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Once the sausage is cooked, dump in the tomatoes, some dried basil and oregano, bay leaves, and chili flakes.

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Stir and let simmer for 5 minutes or so. The longer you leave it, the more liquid boils away, the chunkier (and better, in my opinion) the sauce is.

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Meanwhile, cut a few slices of polenta and fry them in a little butter until crispy. This was my first time ever eating polenta, so I bought it premade. But if you’re already an expert in making polenta, yours will be way better than this stuff.

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Yummmm.

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Mom’s Tomato Sauce with Pan-Fried Polenta

Serves 1, with leftover sauce for 2-3 more days

1/2 lb hot Italian sausage (optional)

1/2 white onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz can chef’s cut tomatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

1 or 2 bay leaves

salt and pepper to taste

butter for polenta

3 slices of pre-made polenta (store-bought or home-made)

Parmesan cheese for serving (I thought I had some when I made this, but I didn’t)

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the Italian sausage. Break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. When the sausage is browned on the outside and almost fully cooked, add in the onion and cook until soft, 1-2 minutes. Add in the garlic, and cook another 30 seconds, being careful to not let it burn. Reduce heat to medium. Add in the entire can of tomatoes, juice and all, basil, oregano, chili flakes, and bay leaves. Allow to simmer at least 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Meanwhile, add a small pat of butter to a pan over medium-high heat. Once melted, add in the polenta, and cook until the outside is crispy, 2-3 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side.

Arrange polenta slices on a plate, and cover with tomato sauce. Serve with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Sauce will keep in the fridge up to 5 days.