Friday, May 27, 2011

Mexican Adulation

Go ahead and pop your wrist cuz you're gonna need that dipping hand ready.

These dips and salsa are so flippin' good, if you're not careful, they may just end up being your dinner.  Once you start, it's hard to stop.  So, whether yours is a palette that loves heat ranging from mild to make-your-upper-lip-sweat-spicy, you'll find something here to suit your fancy.

Makin' Me Hot Navy Bean Dip:
15.5 oz. can navy beans
2 Tbl. water
1 Tbl. Sriracha sauce
1 Tbl. lemon juice
equivalent of 1/2 tsp. habanero pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Preparation:  Drain and rinse navy beans.  Combine all ingredients in food processor and grind until smooth.

Black Bean Dip with Jalapeno Zip :
15.5 oz. can black beans
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tbl. Sriracha sauce
3 Tbl. jalapeno "water"*
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Preparation:  Drain and rinse black beans.  Combine all ingredients in food processor and grind until smooth.

*One of the things I purchase as a salad topper is jarred jalapeno slices.  The liquid that these come in is what I use to flavor this dip.  It really infuses the dip with a delicious jalapeno taste without adding any real heat.

I kid you not, I have never --- NEVER!!! gotten such raucous feedback from my husband as I did with these two bean dips.  He sat there and "Oh'd" and "Um'd" throughout his dipping experience.

In regards to the black bean dip he said,
      "Seriously babe, I would slather this on a hamburger and gobble it up right now!"

Then, he moved on to the navy bean and exclaimed,
      "Oh my gosh!  Rachel.  Seriously.  You need to jar this and sell it!"

His next move was not a shocker as my man is pretty clever.  He dipped one corner of his chip into on dip, and then another into the other.
     "That, was the best decision I made all day…" he said before trailing off into more satisfied munches.

He really knows how to make a girl feel appreciated ya' know.

So, I feel pretty good about these dips.  Hopefully you will too.  I always think it's nice to have something to mix things up with at parties and what not.  Don't get me wrong.  I've got nothing against a good ol' classic pinto bean.  But these up the ante with a nice, spice factor.

The navy bean dip is not for the spice novice.  It definitely has a kick and you'll want to be careful because there is nothing funny about the power of this pepper (read - DON'T touch your eyes after working with the habanero.  It's a hot son-of-a-gun.  It made me cough just cutting it!).

The black bean dip isn't really even worthy of receiving the "mild" title but, go ahead and throw in some of those jalapeno slices if you know your taste buds can handle em'.

At this point you may be wondering, "What the heck is Srirachi?"

Well, it's this:  
Pictured here with my Butternut Squash Bake.

The bright red sauce with the rooster on it.

It has a nice, unique flavor all on its own.  It's got some great heat and for the past couple of months has been a go-to for me as I haven't seemed to be able to get enough spice in my life lately.  

I've mixed it in soups, over squash as you see here.  I've used it to spice up tofu.  I just can't get enough of this baby.

The final recipe I'll leave you with before I sign off for my Mexican voyage is a salsa I'd like to call "Salsa Amarillo" due to it's lovely, yellow color.

Salsa Amarillo:
1 ylw. pepper
1 ylw. heirloom tomato
1 ear ylw. corn
3 cloves garlic
1 sm. - md. jalapeno (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp. ginger
Preparation:  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, cut kernels away from cob.  Rinse and cut pepper into slices.  Cut jalapeno into rounds and clean skin off of garlic.  Place peppers, corn, jalapeno and garlic on foil covered cookie sheet and bake in oven for 30 minutes.  Cut about 1 teaspoon worth of fresh ginger (skin removed) off of ginger root; rinse and slice tomato.  Place tomato and ginger in food processor and pulse until a few chunks of tomato remain.  Once veggies are done, combine corn, jalapeno, and garlic in processor.  Pulse until pretty well smooth.  Combine in a bowl with tomato/ ginger mixture.  Finally, pulse peppers until slightly chunky.  Mix all together well and serve.

I promise you're going to like this.

There's a brightness to this salsa that I love and makes it incredibly easy to devour.

Okay well, I guess this is officially it.  I'm signing off now until my return.  There shouldn't be any typing going where I'm headed so, until then…

"Hasta Luego!"

Senorita Sunshine,

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

T- Minus to Mexico

I am exactly t - minus 5 days away from getting on a jet-plane and flying away.

My destination?

Way down south past the Mexican border.

Now, I understand the fear over all the drug lords and what not, with their drug wars and their drug battles and their murderous drug crimes in the streets.

But the place I'm going, relatively speaking, is one of the less, war-lordy spots.

The tickets are booked and though the bags aren't yet packed, you better believe this girl's not gonna be easily derailed from heading sur de la frontera (I hope I said that right) to sink her toes in some sand and get some R&R under warm, blue skies.

I'll be sippin' on something refreshing in an all-inclusive resort, taking in some Mayan ruins, and hopefully jet skiing to my adrenaline lovin' hearts content.

In honor of this vacation though, you know I'm preparing a post, one befitting of my destination to a sunshiny, Mexican coast.

Everything will be a dip or something easily eaten on a chip, because who wants to mess with fancy utensils when you're going on a trip?

Check back Friday for pictures, recipes, and possibly more rhyming (I don't know where it comes from sometimes; it just happens without me trying).

Feeling Saucy,

Monday, May 23, 2011

Who Noush?

Friday night I went to a birthday party...
                  But --- This... this was no ordinary birthday party.

The birthday girl is a very dear friend, an excellent cook, and a consummate connoisseur of every manner of culinary delight.

Her passion and skill for cooking is a well known fact among her friends and for her birthday her husband (who totally earned major "hubby points" for this one) orchestrated an event that combined both her love of food and sharing tasty experiences with people that she loves.

The festivities took place in an upper room of the magnificently large, Giant Eagle Market District, a grocery store we affectionately call the "Taj MaEagle" due to it's impossible-to-miss size.

The room we met in functions as a demo kitchen where, several nights a week, a couple of the classically trained G.E. chefs lead cooking classes for people stationed throughout the rooms four, fully equipped cooking stations.

The chef typically stands in the front station with a television situated above his head; its camera is trained on the chef's hands to allow the class' participants a birds-eye-view of how the real deal gets things done.
(chef station)

This evening though, the head meister, Chef Luke, who I've mentioned and will no doubt continue to mention again and again, allowed Amanda, the star-birthday girl along with her group of hungry cronies, to take the Chef's station while the rest of us split up into teams to tackle our own, individual dishes.

Throughout the evening, every group made the following:  hummus, tabouli, baba ghanoush, and baklava of which, each group made a slight variation (instead of walnuts, pistachios; instead of almonds the zest of two lemons).

These were all great and it was fun to compare the ever-so-slight differences between the textures and tastes of each "team's" items from group to group.

Now, to my knowledge, never before in my life have I ever had or tasted baba ghanoush.  But, of all the things I tried that night, the "Noush," specifically the one my teammate made, was, hands down, my absolute favorite.

The recipe used said to put all the ingredients in a food processor but my group member did it all by hand.  I just loved the difference it made in the texture!

Baba Ghanoush is a dish with a primary base of eggplants... it's sort of a similar idea to hummus but, instead of the chickpeas, its made with eggplant.

Ingredients Include:
1 eggplant
1/4 c. tahini
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped and 
S & P, to taste

Preparation:  Place eggplant over an open heat source (grill or gas burner*).  Rest until the skin begins to blister and flesh starts to soften.  Transfer to a 350 degree oven and finish roasting for about 15-20 minutes until very tender.  Remove eggplant from oven and let cool until able to handle.  Peel off the skin and remove the stem.  Place remaining flesh in a bowl.  Mash eggplant with a fork than add tahini, garlic, and lemon juice.  Stir parsley then season with salt and pepper.  

[At this point, all the other groups put their's in a food processor and let it work on the ingredients until everything was completely smooth.  But my man Jon just mashed ours to oblivion using the strength of his forearms and employing, for but a moment, his keen chef's eye --- please imagine a Tool Time, Tim Tayloresque, manly grunt session here... "Oh, Oh, oh..."]

Everybody else's Noush was pulverized and tasty but in ours, you could still see the seeds of the eggplant and I really liked that.

Serve with warm, lightly toasted pita and enjoy some for yourself.  

I promise, yoush won't be disappointed.

This recipe came straight from the kitchen of the Giant Eagle Market District, straight from the gifted hands of my dear friend Luke.

Throughout the rest of the evening there were wine tastings, one white and one red, and at each of the cooking stations (there was a total of four if you're counting) we each tackled a different main dish, which was then shared, family style at the pinnacle of the evening.

The remainder of the menu included:
- Stuffed Crust Sicilian Pizza (think mozzarella, basil, artichokes, and tomatoes)
- Roasted Garlic and Spinach Ravioli stuffed with Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions topped with a Peppadew pepper chutney
- Kalamata and Mushroom stuffed Lamb Chops with Tzaztiki (say that three times fast) and
- Chicken Paprikash (you would'a just had to'of been there)

I will say this, I obviously wasn't a huge partaker in the chicken of the "chicken paprikash" buuuuuuuut, I did dip myself out a couple of spoonfuls of this dish's stewy base and... do you want to know what happened?

I chomped down on a piece of bacon.


I tasted bacon for the first time in well over a year; a tiny bit of bacon that suddenly exploded on my tongue... the saltiness, the porkiness, the all-americanness of it all.

It didn't make me want to go out and gobble up a pig or anything, but the taste did immediately take me back to childhood breakfasts... sitting around a table in front of a bowl of cheese-loaded scrambled eggs, a basket stuffed with fluffy, white biscuits and a plate stacked with a couple of layers of crisp, brown, greasy bacon (my favorite pieces were actually the ones that were darn near blackened; I have since learned how terribly bad this is for you --- anything blackened is basically a straight up carcinogen being introduced into your system --- but the fact still remains:  for me, for whatever reason, the charred, crumbley ones were the most desirable).

Once I came to from by bacon-induced-flashback I spent the rest of the evening taking in the shear volume of everything that had been created.  There was good food, great friends, and wonderful conversation.

I felt amazingly blessed, incredibly full and grateful to have been a part of it.

A few additional scenes from the evening…

The birthday girl, doing her thing.

I am sorry I don't have pictures of the final product.  I'm afraid by that time I was too busy eating.  Suffice it to say that each dish was a success, in both taste and aesthetic.  


*If you, like me, don't have an open heat source, you can also broil the eggplant in the oven until the skin is blackened and crispy; you'll want to watch it just like anything else you broil though as things can go from crisp to "have-to-throw-it-away-crap" really, really fast.

Tasty Tip of the Day: Tough Taters

Yeah, so this one is a little bit of a repeat, but it's good so, it's one worth repeating.  Today's tip is how to decrease the prep time for one (if not my favorite) potato involving dish.

I'm talking about my South of the Border Sweet Potato and Quinoa dish.  This tip is useful, however, for this or any other potato-including-meal you might desire.

The tip is to "nuke" the starchy little suckers.

Depending on the intensity of your microwave and it's setting, the time will vary slightly from oven to oven.  But, if you place your potatoes in the microwave for about 1-2 minutes on each side, they will soften to the point that cutting them or removing the skin is a very much easier, less time consuming process.

And who doesn't love "less time consuming?"  Hello!

Less Prep.
            Faster to Eat.
                    More time with the Fam.

You can't be mad at that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tasty Tip of The Day: Getting Rid of Garlic Stink

In continuing with my garlic theme, today I thought I'd share a tip my chef friend taught me.

I was lamenting to him about how I really did not love being stuck with garlic fingers but, I love using garlic so much there just really didn't seem like anyway of getting around it.

The secret:  rinse hands, then rub pennies between your fingers.
Something about the metal in them counter acts the pungent scent of garlic.

Neat right?!

So, there you have it - a solution to stinky fingers and a reason to crack open your bulging piggy bank (or maybe just open the little whole at the bottom so you don't have to smash Mr. Piggy B.).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pumpkin Cake

With Homemade Icing and Very Berry Topping
WARNING:  This post contains content that may be harmful to your waist-line goals.  This cake is dangerously easy to pound.  The ingredients within (most notably, the amount of sugar) are by no stretch of the imagination "health conscious."  Therefore, I advise that any self-professed Sugar Addict, even those just struggling with an unyielding sweet-tooth, should proceed with caution.  For you, it is advisable that you adhere to the tenets of the buddy system before letting the  first cup of flour hit the bowl - do NOT bake this cake alone; this will go a long way in preventing the adverse effects of devouring a shame-spiral inducing amount of this decadently moist dish.  A second party should be present to hold you accountable to a reasonable bite, taste, slice, or wedge.    Do NOT attempt to rely on your will power alone to resist the temptation of this excessively indulgent, pumpkin dish.  

Okay, okay.  So obviously, I jest.  There is, however, a great deal of truth to this though.

For the most part, anytime I sit down to create a meal, I do it with a focus on health in mind.  I endeavor to create dishes that are delicious and satisfying and that include as many fresh, life promoting ingredients as possible.

This is NOT one of those dishes.

I don't know if any of you noticed but, for the past few fall seasons, there seemed to be a shortage of pumpkin.  So, this past fall, I stocked up on the stuff once it finally hit the shelves.  Throughout the fall and winter season, I made many a pumpkiny-delite in the form of breads, muffins, cakes and pies.

It didn't take too long though, before I was all pumpkined out.

One lone can remained untouched in my cupboard.  There it sat, hidden behind the oatmeal, canned tomatoes, peanut butter and beans, patiently waiting to fulfill its destiny.

This cake was the result of… well, I guess you could say, it was the result of the perfect storm:

  • I had this can of pumpkin.
  • A bag of powdered sugar.
  • And several containers of fruit that, if not used expeditiously, would soon become speckled with spots that were fuzzy and grey.

"I'll make a cake!" I thought, "if for no other reason than to not be wasteful with all that beautiful fruit sittin' in my refrigerator."

(Right… I didn't want to be, wasteful… that's sound reasoning right?!)

The cake I created is in fact "vegan" but, I wouldn't go so far as to call it "friendly."

The final result of the seemingly innocuous combination of fruit, pumpkin, powered sugar and I, produced a surprisingly powerful, sensory-temptress, with a texture that's so moist it seems to practically melt (the way cotton candy does the moment it passes your lips) and icing that soaks into the bread and slips down the sides, leaving you licking sticky fingers and lusting for more.

Fruit Topping*
2 c. black, seedless grapes
6 oz. container of each - blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries
half of 16 oz. container of strawberries

Preparation:  Combine all ingredients in large pot on stove.  Cook over medium-low heat for up to one hour stirring occasionally.  Berries will mostly cook down but some of the larger pieces and grapes will still retain their shape; this is fine, even preferable as it makes for a nice presentation once you go to assemble the dish.

16 oz. bag powdered sugar
1/2 - 1 c. milk alternative
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preparation:  In a large bowl slowly mix milk and vanilla into sugar, adding the milk gradually just until you get a creamy, icing consistency.  Cover and chill until ready to use.

Pumpkin Cake
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1tsp. pumpkin pie spice
pinch of salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. agave nectar
1/2 c. no-sugar added applesauce
2 c. pumpkin puree
4 Tbl. milk alternative
1/2 tsp. white vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp. baking soda

Preparation:  In a small glass combine milk alternative and vinegar and let sit for at least 5 minutes before adding baking soda; this is a buttermilk alternative.  In a large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking powder.  In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients and use power mixer to blend ingredients well.  Alternate between wet mixture and buttermilk, slowly folding the ingredients into dry mixture.  Separate into two round baking pans and cook at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until toothpick pressed into center comes out clean.

Once cake has fully cooled**, flip rounds out of pans.  Place one on dish and spread a layer of icing on top (you may want to zap icing briefly in order to make it as easy as possibly to pour on or spread).  Place second layer on top.  Pour remaining icing over top of cake.  When ready to actually serve, top with fruit topping or spoon out as much per piece as you (or your guests) would like.

Finally, sit back and indulge.
Bake at your own risk,

*I prepared my topping a few nights ahead of time.  I cooked down my fruit, drained a majority of the liquid into a separate jar and set the fruit topping aside in a sealable, plastic container.  The extra liquid could be used as syrup to drizzle over pancakes, add flavor to a fizzy, summer bevy (think berry mojito), or pair it with a sprinkling of nuts as a topper for vanilla ice cream (try coconut milk ice cream; you'll be blown away by this stud dairy alternative).
** I actually did not wait to let my cake fully cool.  When I assembled my cake, each piece was still very warm.  So when I went to put on the icing, it soaked into the middle of the cake and melted as I poured it over the top which resulted in it running over the sides but then, sadly, also over the edge of the plate.  Nobody ever wants to lose icing.  So, maybe you don't let it cool 100% of the way but, just be for warned, this icing is exactly like what you'd expect on a cinnamon roll and it can be just as messy.

Tasty Tip of the Day: Getting at Garlic

Love the taste of fresh garlic but find the process of removing the outer layers too tedious and time consuming?  

The solution to your problem - a really good "WHACK!"

On a cutting board, lay clove flat on it's side, place a large knife over top and, with the heel of your hand, give it a solid knock.

The outer layer will crack away from the fleshy center.  At this point its super easy to just peel, cut off the little nub at the bottom, and mince, press, or brown… whatever your garlic, loving heart desires (that's a bit of a double entendre) *smirk* (as scientist have discovered that garlic really is good for reducing blood pressure and cholesterol).  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Explanation

So, I feel like I owe you an explanation.

It's been a while sense my last post and, even that was a pretty lack luster one (I do freakin' love me some artichoke hearts though… for realz).

You see, something you may not know about me is the fact that my creativity is not confined to the kitchen.  And, as you may have found to be true for yourself, food is not my main or even necessarily my primary source of energy in this life.

I know that might sound a little "new agey" or whatever but it's true.

A lot of things go into "feeding"ourselves.  Wouldn't you agree?

We are so much more than just the physical bodies that we use food to energize, repair, and promote health and wellness.  There is also our mental health, our spiritual health - intangibles that every single human being knows exist but you can't hold a thought or touch a spirit.  You can certainly "feed" your mind or "feed" your spirit with things that will be life promoting or life diminishing, just as we do with food for our physical bodies, it's just that those kinds of "dishes" might not be so easily identified.

Sooooooo here's the thing, for me, one of the things that is super energizing to me is Sunshine; and not just a sun shining in the sky but a sun that has finally tipped the scales in spring's favor to where, when I walk outside, my shoulders don't immediately scrunch up around my neck in a reaction to a blistering, windy cold but can finally relax, and feel the warmth as it penetrates deep down into every single little cell of my skin.

I know there are very real, physiological, scientific facts that explain the importance of how the sun effects our bodies but, when you live in a region that is prone to long seasons of "dreary" and "grey", those facts don't make it any easier to deal.

I've done my fair share to try to guard myself against falling captive to the winter (or, as is sometimes the case, even the spring) blues:
- I got myself a HappyLite (yes, it's literally called a HappyLite.  It's by Verilux and its a light that emits the full spectrum of the suns rays as a form of phototherapy which can often help people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or S.A.D.).
- I make sure to take my Vitamin D and B Vitamins every day.
- As of late (which I'm not advocating this necessarily, I'm just saying this is what I do) I've been visiting the tanning salon just to feel about five minutes of warmth on my skin.
- I regularly exercise and get a good amount of sleep.

But, even after taking all these steps, over the last month, I still found myself, not sad per se… It was more just a general lack of motivation and difficulty with concentration that was the prevalent feeling almost every day.

I was confused and frustrated and started to get really down on myself because I couldn't help but start thinking, "Am I just a super lazy person?  Why don't I have any desire to blog or write or be creative at all?"

Okay - so I know I get a great deal of energy from the sun.

But, it's not just the warmth or the brightness that does it for me.  It's also the fact that a lot of the other ways I like to express my creativity involve me being able to get outside.

This is a problem if you feel like a little bear, in a cage, who's been antsy to stretch her little bear paws for going on just about two months now.

You see, I'm energized by doing all sorts of things.  One, I classify as "Projecting," which usually involves me busting out the power tools and creating some funky piece of home decor.

(image of log candle holders I made using a reciprocating saw, power sander and a drill bit)

I also express myself in the way I wear my hair and makeup any given day.  Many people maybe wouldn't understand that.  Maybe they'd think it was silly or a waste or just a narcissistic thing girls do.  But for me, I can't help but think about it as I prepare myself for the day. I love to go out into the world with an outfit, makeup, accessories and hair, that I feel like incapsulate the mood or "spirit" I'm feeling that day.
(Comment for deets on makeup, it's one of my favorite things)

Sometimes it's just photography; capturing something that I would like the opportunity never to forget.

(I think frost is magical… reminds me of the fairies in Fantasia.  Anyone?  Anyone?)

Anyway,  I guess I'm sharing this with you, one - because it has been so very long since I really posted anything and two - because I was very encouraged by a very dear friend who shared the thought with me that helped me move through this somewhat perplexing time.

She was like, "Rachel, you're someone who feeds on experiencing new things, being able to get out and be creative and see things or be with people who inspire you.  That's where your motivation and inspiration comes from.  If you haven't been able to do that, there's no need to beat yourself up."

Do you have friends like this?  I sincerely pray and hope you do because there is just nothing in the world like a friend who can give you insight about yourself that, if it was anyone else talking, you'd immediately be able to show them grace and be understanding.  But, isn't it the case that, it seems when it comes to ourselves, sometimes we just can't see things clearly because we're too close to the perceived problem or struggle.  Sometimes a simple insight from someone who genuinely knows and cares about you can be such a supernaturally uplifting thing.

I think another valuable thing I've come to realize is that I just can't be satisfied with only sharing about food here.  Not that that's all I talk about here but, I think I'm going to have to start incorporating some of these other things… if nothing else, just for the fun of it.  I started another blog,, that shows more of my crafty, creative pursuits but, I think I'd like to combine them here.

After all, these are all the things that go into making life surprisingly satisfying.  So, bear with me as I start to try to figure out how I'm going to incorporate some of this.

I personally can't be satisfied trying to focus on one thing or even trying to define myself as one thing.  I don't know why I necessarily thought I had to in the first place but, it will be interesting to see how things unfold as I move in a new direction going forward.

It is in fact a gloriously sunny day today so, I don't want to spend one more second then I have to inside on my computer.

Affectionately Yours,
Sun Bunny