Friday, November 20, 2015

Cheesy Chili

Last week was a long one for me, spent on the road for work. In the middle of my travels, our sweet foster dog was adopted. It is always hard to say goodbye to the dogs that we inevitably fall hard for, but it is even worse when I miss the chance to say goodbye at all. I mean, look at this face!

The week culminated with travel delays that landed me home after my husband had already left for his deer hunting adventure. The house felt so empty with one dog and one husband gone! Determined not to give in to the desire to sit around all weekend and eat cookie dough alone feel sorry for myself, I invited a few of my friends over to watch the football game on Saturday. I spent the morning preparing a Razorback red spread that included this cheesy chili and plenty of other treats:

I was not too fond of chili before I started making it myself. When I make chili, I like fewer beans and more spices. I also usually add a few surprises (like my chili with roasted butternut squash or my sweet potato, black bean, and lentil chili). This version skips the veggies that my previous recipes have utilized and goes straight for the comfort food: Velveeta! Chili is one of the hallmarks of autumn, and Velveeta is one of the hallmarks of football game spreads. It was only natural to bring them together. 

Cheesy Chili
Yields 6 servings

You will need:
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 cans (16 ounces each) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce 
  • 4 ounces chopped green chilis
  • 1 can (16 ounces) chili beans
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder, dried parsley, salt, and pepper
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • 8 ounces Velveeta cheese, sliced into large cubes
  • Optional toppings: sour cream, cilantro, grated cheddar cheese, corn chips or tortilla chips, and avocado

  • Add olive oil, onion, and garlic to a large pot set to medium-high heat. Saute for five minutes or so, and add the diced bell pepper. Cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Once onions are fragrant, add ground beef. Cook until ground beef has browned, breaking up any clumps that form. 
  • Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, chilis, beans, water, and all spices and seasonings. Bring the mixture to a boil (uncovered), then reduce heat and cover the pot. Let the chili simmer for thirty minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. 
  • Increase heat back to medium and add Velveeta. Cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently to mix the cheese into the chili. 
  • Serve hot with your choice of toppings.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cheddar and Herb Cauliflower "Biscuits"

Maybe it's a bit misleading to call these biscuits. Maybe I should have gone with another name. The reason I went with "biscuits" is because I think that they taste as close to the much-admired Cheddar Bay Biscuit as you can get* in the flavor department. 

*I should say: as close as you can come to the flavor of the Cheddar Bay Biscuit when your primary ingredient is a cruciferous vegetable. 

Frankly, the decision to call them "biscuits" was a marketing tactic. I'm married to a carb enthusiast, not a vegetable enthusiast. Although he will try anything that I make (bless him - there are many experimental meals whose recipes do not grace the archives of this blog), he will happily try anything I make when it at least sounds appealing. The distinction is important. 

Ketch couldn't even tell the difference between my version and the true "Cheddar Bay" biscuit. Or, at least, if he could have, I don't think he would have asked so politely. 

The picture below is actually a "brunch" that I made at home last week. Yes, I served steak with horseradish sauce, broiled tomatoes, cheddar and herb cauliflower "biscuits", and hashbrowns for brunch for the two of us. I realize in hindsight that this is significantly more appropriate as a dinner than a breakfast. I would contend, however, that the presence of hashbrowns makes this completely brunch-appropriate. 

I baked the biscuits in muffin tins the first time that I made them, but I don't recommend it. The texture isn't truly "biscuit like" enough to ensure that you will be able to easily remove the biscuits from the oven tin. Better safe than sorry, when cheesy cauliflower goodness is involved. That's what I always say, at least. 

Instead, the biscuits worked better in large ramekins or in a single casserole dish. The texture is soft; it's somewhere between mashed potatoes and quiche on the Standard Food Firmness Scale (trademark pending). 

In any event, a cheddar and herb cauliflower biscuit by any name is just as savory. Or so Shakespeare would say. 

Cheddar and Herb Cauliflower "Biscuits"
Yields 12 large biscuits

You will need:
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Dash each paprika and cayenne
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Coarsely chop cauliflower into large chunks. Place cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl, add water, and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 10 minutes, until cauliflower is soft. 
  • Puree cauliflower in a food processor with butter, eggs, and fresh garlic until smooth. 
  • Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in remaining ingredients.  
  • Spray a large muffin tin or casserole dish with non-stick spray. Pour in cauliflower mixture. 
  • Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown, then remove from oven and let cool for about five minutes. The biscuits are best served hot.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Italian Zucchini, Sundried Tomato, and Olive Cornbread

I've started going overboard with my soup and chili recipes. I'm all about a comforting broth this time of year. If I had my way, I probably wouldn't eat solid food from early October until about March. Curries and bisques and stews could keep me satisfied all winter long, I'm sure of it. 

Rather than test out that theory, though, and to make sure that my teeth are still able to chew after winter thaws into spring, I have to make some side dishes. I made my favorite chili with roasted butternut squash last week (recipe link!) and needed something equally delicious to round out the meal. 

This recipe takes the classic Jiffy cornbread box and makes that tiny box go further with the addition of plenty of Italian flavors. The cornbread is studded with shredded sauteed zucchini, acidic bursts of sundried tomato, salty chopped olives, and tangy feta cheese crumbles. It's fast, it's delicious, and it's the only cornbread allowed near my perfect chili (at the moment - you know I'm always experimenting!).

Italian Zucchini, Sundried Tomato, and Olive Cornbread
Yields 8-10 servings

You will need:
  • 1 8.5 ounce box Jiffy cornbread (or your favorite cornbread mix/recipe)
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, grated
  • 1/2 of a small Vidalia onion (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt, pepper, and paprika
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 10-12 stuffed green olives, chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a small (8 inch by 8 inch) baking dish or loaf pan.
  • Heat a large skillet to medium-high. Add olive oil, garlic, onion, and zucchini. Cook for five to ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle in salt, pepper, and paprika.
  • Prepare cornbread according to package directions in a large bowl. If you're using Jiffy cornbread, you'll stir together the egg and milk. 
  • Stir in sundried tomato, feta, and olives. Add cooked zucchini last. Do not overmix.
  • Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 for 15 to 25 minutes, until the cornbread is golden brown. 
  • Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.Serve warm. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Autumn Arugula Salad with Roasted Butternut and Chickpeas


The mornings are getting chilly and pumpkins are hitting the shelves at the local farmer's market and grocery stores. To my husband, this weather change means that it's hunting season and football season. To me, however, the leaves falling means one thing: it's time to start cooking all things squash. 

This weekend, we hosted the World's Cutest Niece and the rest of my in-law family. Husband, naturally, was hard at work on the smoker. Meanwhile, I stayed within my comfort zone: stocking up on decorative gourds and finding ways to force everyone to eat more pumpkin. 

For this filling dish, I roasted butternut squash and chickpeas until browned and slightly crispy in a flavorful blend of garlic, olive oil, and curry powder. There is not enough curry to add too much heat to the butternut. Instead, the curry powder just adds a unique and unexpected flavor. I say "unexpected", because my poor family has to endure about seventy variations on this salad each fall. I'm a predictable girl, what can I say? 

I also used red quinoa, creamy chevre, sweet-tart reduced-sugar Craisins, and arugula for a bitter contrast to the mellow squash and chickpeas. For a dressing, I used the flavorful oil from the baking sheet, plus a splash of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. You could make a proper salad dressing, but I don't think it's really necessary. The miniature pumpkin decor pictured below, however, is necessary. 


Autumn Arugula Salad with Roasted Butternut and Chickpeas
Serves 8 to 10

You will need:
  • 4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 16 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 cup chevre, room temperature
  • 2 cups red quinoa, cooked
  • 2/3 cup cranberries (reduced sugar, if available)
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions
  • 3-5 cups fresh arugula
  • Olive oil, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar
  • Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. 
  • In a large bowl, toss cubed butternut and chickpeas with the olive oil, garlic, curry powder, salt, pepper, and lemon juice until evenly mixed. 
  • Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until butternut is browned in places. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for about ten minutes. 
  • In a large bowl, toss together, quinoa, cranberries, green onion, and arugula. Add in butternut and chickpea mixture, including any residual oils. 
  • Add extra olive oil, if desired, as well as lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. 
  • Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Roasted Vegetable Curry Soup with Chicken and Quinoa

After a Labor Day weekend filled with friends, house guests, and an impromptu cookout, we had a refrigerator brimming with fantastic homemade leftovers that I really had no desire whatsoever to eat again. There are only so many times each week that I can get excited about the same meal. Even when the "same meal" is absolutely delicious (smoked chicken, sweet potato salad, grilled vegetables, quinoa-pesto salad, and more): 

So, I decided to try a different approach. I turned the remaining leftover grilled vegetables into a thick, flavorful soup. It could have been fine on its own with just a few spices, but I don't stop at "fine", do I? If I had a Sparkle Kitchen business card, my slogan should probably be something like "Excess excellence in the kitchen". Well, actually, it should really be "Whatever it is, add sweet potato." But that wouldn't be a good marketing tactic, would it? Luckily, I don't have a slogan or a Sparkle Kitchen business card. What I do have is a great curry recipe.  

Other leftovers from this weekend include red quinoa and six leftover smoked chicken thighs and drumsticks. I wasn't sure how a curry would taste with the smoky flavor from the chicken, but the curry powder pleasantly overwhelmed any smoke flavor or spice rub on the chicken. 

For the vegetable base, I used the leftover grilled vegetables, which amounted to about six stalks of asparagus, two summer squash, and half of a medium eggplant. I also had six large vine-ripened tomatoes wilting away sadly in the back of my refrigerator (my lofty weekend goals included homemade salsa). I roasted the tomatoes and about two cups of carrots with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper for about 45 minutes at 350 Fahrenheit to release the flavor. 

I do not think that the mix of vegetables or the original cooking method matters too much. Use the precooked, steamed, roasted, or poached asparagus spears sitting limp in the back-corner of the fridge, the sauteed broccoli you made two nights ago that won't go away, the never-ending zucchini from the garden that you ambitiously grilled too much of. Roast a few vegetables with neutral or mellow flavors (ahem, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.) that you need to get to about eight cups total of vegetables. Add them all to a large pot and simmer for half an hour with low-sodium vegetable stock, then puree until you've got a consistency you like and add the spices. 

Use a spicy red curry, or a yellow curry blend, if you can't handle the heat. Add Thai bird chili if you're feeling adventurous. The spice level will be somewhat tempered with peanut butter and Greek yogurt (or swap in coconut milk, if you're a curry purist), and the beauty of a soup is that you can always add more on either end to adjust the spice scale. 

Roasted Vegetable Curry Soup with Chicken and Quinoa
Serves 6-8

You will need:
  • Approximately 8 cups cooked vegetables
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 2 cups red quinoa, cooked
  • 1 cup spinach, fresh or canned
  • 6 skin-on cooked chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks
  • 1/3 cup hot red curry powder
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • Optional garnishes: fresh cilantro, a dollop of Greek yogurt, sliced avocado, crushed peanuts, and Thai chili oil. 
  • Add vegetable stock and cook, covered, on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, prepare the chicken by removing the meat from the bones and cutting into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
    • It is much easier to separate the chicken from the bone when the meat is a bit warm. If you're using leftovers, heat slightly in the microwave or place in the oven for a few minutes just to make the meat easier to manipulate.
  • After the vegetables have simmered with the stock, remove the pot from heat and let cool for five minutes or so. 
    • Using an immersion blender will puree the mixture to a smooth consistency with a few chunkier bits here and there, which I prefer to a uniform texture. If you want an even consistency, use a blender or food processor to puree. 
  • Place pot back on the stove and set to medium heat. Add curry powder, peanut butter, and remaining spices and cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally until peanut butter is fully incorporated into the vegetable base and no clumps remain. 
  • Add chicken, quinoa, and spinach. 
  • Let the mixture heat through (approximately ten minutes), then serve warm with desired garnishes. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Turnip greens with chickpeas and tomatoes

We celebrated Husband's last year in his 20s with a "meat brunch" (his idea, not mine) over the weekend. The party was a fun, casual, backyard affair with meats of every variety and a few brunch standards as well. Husband learned a few new tricks on the smoker, and I learned that you can, in fact, have a meat-induced hangover. 

The menu was elaborate, but remarkably simple to pull together:
  • Biscuits and spicy sausage gravy
  • Smoked peri peri chicken thighs
  • Twice marinated garlic buffalo chicken wings
  • Smoked pulled pork
  • Turnip greens with chickpeas and tomatoes
  • Brown sugar and cayenne smoked bacon
  • Grilled corn pico de gallo
  • Hashbrown, pulled pork, salsa, smoked jalapeno, and cheddar casserole
  • Asparagus and mushroom pesto quiche
  • Grilled kielbasa 
As far as libations, we had a well-appointed bubbly bar for mimosas, bloody marys, and a few other liquors and mixers that we feel appropriate to serve in the morning. I made a poor showing as a food iphonographer, though, and only took three pictures (and not one picture that turned out well). 

The smoked peri peri chicken and grilled buffalo wings:

A random snapshot of some things on my counter. Fantastic. Anyone know any food photographers hiring an apprentice? Please send them this photo as indicative of my portfolio:

And the hashbrown, pulled pork, salsa, smoked jalapeno, and cheddar casserole: 

Honestly, this was one of the most impressive spreads we have ever done for a party. And it's also one of the only times I've ever completely forgotten to take pictures. Now that you've seen everything that we served (or at least read the menu), you may be somewhat disappointed that the recipe that I'm sharing today is the turnip greens with chickpeas and tomatoes. You might almost be as disappointed in the recipe choice as Mops apparently was with our guest list: 

Serious scowling going on in that photo. 

My contribution to this brunch was minimal. Husband wanted to showcase his skills on the smoker, and I happily obliged. I was a bit pouty the day before the party. I'm used to micromanaging fretting over portions and prep time. I am an apron-clad dictator of the kitchen, pounding my fist and barking edicts from my granite-topped podium. I thought I was invincible. I should have seen the coup coming. 

Power trips aside, I wasn't used to being the "side dish" cook. But, once relegated to the corner, I got over it and made this side dish inspired by a fantastic interview on NPR I heard the day before the party while running errands. Weekend Edition interviewed Caroline Randall Williams about healthy southern soul food cooking and I felt inspired by her words, although I have not yet seen any of her recipes. Her cookbook, Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family, is now on my "must read" list. 

This recipe makes a heaping pot of flavorful turnip greens with unique flavors like paprika, chickpeas, fresh tomatoes, and coconut milk. Due to the almost stew-like consistency, I recommend serving the greens in a small bowl if you're dishing them out as a side dish, or else you run the "risk" of your whole plate tasting like the rich, flavorful sauce. 

I plan to serve it during the winter over quinoa as a main course. The recipe can be made vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous. I used bacon in this version for a Southern comfort-food flavor. Simply omit the bacon and swap the half-and-half for coconut milk and you can take the dish to vegetarian or vegan. 

I'm not really sure how we will top this year's birthday party for Husband. As he appears to be slowly edging me out of the kitchen, maybe he'll have the whole party planned and I'll get an invitation in the mail. Humph.

Turnip greens with chickpeas and tomatoes
Serves 6-8

You will need:
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (approximately 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 pounds turnip greens, coarsely chopped
  • 1 16-ounce chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 low sodium vegan bouillon cube
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half or coconut milk (or more; adjust to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons each paprika and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun spice blend
  • 5 slices bacon, optional
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • Heat a large pot to medium. Add coconut oil, garlic, and chopped onion. If using bacon, add chopped bacon slices.
  • Cook for five minutes, until onions are fragrant. Add tomatoes, bouillon cube, and chickpeas. Stir occasionally until bacon is fully cooked. 
  • Add turnip greens, lime juice, water, hot sauce (optional), and spices. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for about  fifteen minutes, then stir in coconut milk or half-and-half. 
    • For a more stew-like consistency, increase coconut milk to a full can.
  • Cook for an additional ten minutes, until greens are tender and the texture is consistent. Serve hot, with hot sauce on the side. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Grilled Corn Pico de Gallo

There are some flavors that are inextricably linked to seasons. Pumpkin, for example, is a fall staple. Ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and peppermint make me think of winter. Summer is the season of watermelon, and for me, grilled corn. 

Grilling corn until it is slightly charred adds phenomenal flavor depth to a vegetable that can be fairly bland without a little help in the taste department. You can also grill a large batch of corn at once if you want to use it in several recipes. It is easiest to slice it off of the cob while it is still warm, but you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a couple of days, then re-heat prior to using it. I don't recommend making the pico de gallo ahead of time. If you want to grill the corn in advance, just store it separately. 

Grilled corn is a delicious addition to pico de gallo. The sweet, slightly crunchy kernels add a pop of flavor and a different texture to the classic mix of bold jalapeno and onion and acidic tomato. 

I'm not the sort of home cook who has the time to prepare every component of a meal from scratch every evening. I buy some things, like garbanzo beans and black beans, in cans. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and in my kitchen, the line is corn. There's no comparing corn sliced off the cob and the canned stuff. Canned corn loses all of the sweet flavor and fantastic crunchy-outside-tender-inside texture that makes corn on the cob so tasty. The kernels become uniformly soft and salty (even in the "low sodium" cans). It's worth the extra slices of the knife to have the fresh stuff. 

Summer isn't just the season for fresh corn. It's also prime time to take pictures of Mops in the water. It's amazing to me that this strange little dog loves swimming. It's even more amazing to me how miserable she looks while in the process. Here's Mops at Steel Creek on the Buffalo River, just living her little dog life to the fullest: 

No one asked us why we brought our pet sloth to the river, but I could sense the question in the air. Or at least it should have been. 

Enough laughing at Mops for now. Back to the recipe. 

We enjoyed the grilled corn pico de gallo on top of grilled salmon at a recent "team dinner" evening with some friends. I developed the menu, planned the recipes, and printed out copies of both for every lady in attendance. We divided up cooking duties, put on our best aprons, and had a fantastic dinner on the table with more wine than stress involved in the process. 

Our menu for the evening started with fresh salsa (brought by a savvy gardener pal), guacamole, and a kale, toasted pecan, chevre, mango, and avocado salad with my jalapeno cilantro ranch. For our main course, we had grilled salmon with a lime butter sauce topped with grilled corn pico de gallo. Our side dishes were mashed sweet potatoes with feta, grilled squash, and grilled balsamic green bean bundles.

This recipe can be made almost entirely from vegetables that are currently in season. If you're like my mother, you can probably harvest everything without leaving the house. If you've somehow managed to kill every plant you've ever touched, you may prefer to head to your nearest farmer's market. By the way, my plant kill list so far includes both succulents and mint. Although both seemed to try very ardently to survive, my black thumb overpowered them in the end. Rest in peace, my little green friends. 

I think I may add sliced peaches to this recipe next time. Or maybe avocado? Any other ideas?

Grilled Corn Pico de Gallo
Yields 6 to 8 servings

You will need:
  • 1 large purple onion
  • 2-3 cups chopped cherry tomatoes
  • 3 ears of corn
  • 1 fresh jalapeno
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun spice blend 
  • Set grill to medium heat. 
  • Pour olive oil onto a large plate or platter. Roll corn in olive oil and add cumin and Cajun spice blend. 
  • Grill corn for five to seven minutes, until slightly charred in some places. Remove from heat and let cool. 
  • Finely chop the onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and cherry tomatoes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add garlic salt and black pepper. 
  • When corn is cool enough to handle, slice kernels from the cob. Toss the corn in with the other ingredients to combine. 
  • Serve at room temperature. This dish is best when prepared immediately before serving. However, you can store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a day prior to serving.