Meatloaf! (But not really)

I have received some requests for a meatloaf recipe. Here’s the thing about that: I just can’t do it anymore, guys. In my transitioning-to-vegetarian stage, I sometimes made things with meat in them for omnivorous family members and friends. But after all this time, the thought of filling a loaf pan with ground meat just kind of grosses me out. In other words, as Meatloaf himself once said, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.”

Here’s what I will do:

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That is a magically delicious meatless meatloaf, made of lentils, millet, and just a few other wonderful things. Yes, lentils. Don’t look at me like that, Baconator. I daresay this is my favorite blog recipe to date. That is a bold statement, especially after last week’s pumpkin cookies, but I am quite in love with this stuff. Great with a baked sweet potato for dinner, great crumbled over a salad for lunch the next day, cheap, simple, and it won’t give you the meat-sweats. (<——–I just googled that. Totally a real thing.)

The only part of this recipe that might seem like a drag is cooking the lentils and the millet. But fear not–both of these things don’t require much attention once you get them going. You can easily cook them ahead of time if you want. Here’s an excellent post that will tell you everything you need to know about millet, including how to cook it. For the lentils, first make sure to pick them over a bit before cooking them. Because of the way they’re harvested, very rarely there will be a teensy pebble or other non-lentil object in the bag, and nobody wants to eat pebbles.

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For this recipe, I used 1/2 c. lentils, cooked in 1 1/2 c. veggie stock. Cooking them in water is fine, but using stock adds a little extra flavor. Just use a 3-1 liquid-to-lentils ratio, bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer until tender but not mushy–mine took about 25 minutes.

Once you have your cooked millet and lentils, everything comes together in a snap.

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You’ll add a sweet glaze about halfway through the baking time…

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…and once it’s done, you can enjoy a slice while sitting in the fall leaves like a J.Crew model.

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Lentil Millet Loaf (serves about 6)

  • 1/2 c. lentils (uncooked)
  • 3 c. vegetable stock (may also use water)
  • 1/2 c. millet (uncooked)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 c. diced onion
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 3 tbsp flax meal (ground flaxseeds)
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 c. ketchup

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 c. ketchup
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

Pick over the lentils and remove any small bits of debris. Bring the lentils to a boil in the 3 cups of veggie stock (or water). Lower the heat, and simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy (start checking after about 20 minutes). To cook the millet, toast it for a couple of minutes in a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a saucepan. Then add two cups of water, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. (See the post linked above for more detailed millet-cooking info.)

Mix the flax meal with the 1/2 cup of water and set aside to thicken for a few minutes. (This will create a flax “egg” that will bind the mixture.) Sautee the onion and garlic with a drizzle of olive oil until softened (about five minutes). Add the walnuts to the onion and garlic and continue to sautee for about 2 more minutes before removing the pan from the heat. Pulse the cooked lentils in a food processor until very few whole lentils remain. (This will keep the loaf from being too crumbly.) In a large bowl, mix the lentils, millet, sauteed onion/garlic/walnut mixture, flax “egg”, salt, pepper, and ketchup. Press firmly into a loaf pan (mine is 5″x9″, which I think is pretty standard) and bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes. About halfway through the baking time, spread the glaze on top of the loaf and return to the oven until finished.

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Have a great week, folks! I’m doing a half marathon next Sunday, so if I don’t make it back here next Monday, just assume I’m too sore to walk to my computer.

 

Homeroom Mothering

While searching for a lawyer job, I’ve been making some money by subbing as an associate teacher. It’s a pretty fantastic way to pass the time, let me tell you. Kids are hilarious, and we get to do awesome stuff, like take field trips to the grocery store and learn about explorers, tectonic plates, and good character.

Last week I was working in a first grade classroom where one of the students was having a birthday, so we got treats in the afternoon. The treats were those round, frosted sugar cookies you can buy in the front of pretty much every grocery store, Target, Walmart, etc. There is no love in those cookies, my friends–just sugar, flour, food coloring, and probably some partially hydrogenated lard. You can’t blame the birthday girl or her parents, though, because home-baked treats are a no-no in most schools today. I assume this is because of food allergies, which makes sense, but the rule still bums me out because it pretty much crushes one of my childhood dreams.

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You see, when I was but a young lass at Jefferson Elementary School (pictured above with my bro, wearing my MC Hammer pants), we had something called a “Homeroom Mother”. This was a parent of one of the children in your class who was responsible for bringing treats, juice boxes, and favors for the various class parties. (There were no Homeroom Fathers, but seven-year-old Darcy wasn’t concerned because she hadn’t yet been told about the evils of patriarchy.) For context, please see this photo of one of my mom’s class Halloween parties (she was a first grade teacher):

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Doesn’t that look like a can’t-miss party? I knew, deep in my heart, that I would one day be a Homeroom Mother. It was clearly the part I was born to play, and I would have thrown some rad class parties, let me tell you. I would have dazzled the classmates of my hypothetical future children with meticulously decorated baked goods. But ALAS! It can never be. Score one for the store-bought sugar cookies.

But let’s pretend, just for today, that I was in charge of treats for a Halloween/fall party. I would make these…..

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…and you should too, because they’re light, pillowy, pumpkin-y, and deeeee-licious. They look like cookies, but the texture is much more like cake. The frosting has a nice little hint of cinnamon. And of course there are sprinkles, because I conducted a focus group of sorts with my group of kiddos while we ate our birthday treats last week, and we all agreed that sprinkles are AWESOME.

Happy baking, and happy Monday!
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Pumpkin Cookies (makes 18-20)

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. canned pumpkin (Make sure it’s just plain pumpkin, NOT the pumpkin pie filling. I make that mistake at the grocery store about once every year.)
  • 1/2 c. canola (or vegetable) oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Frosting:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 c. confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 and grease your cookie sheets (I used parchment paper in the picture below, but later found that just greasing the cookie sheet worked better). Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar for about 30 seconds, add the vanilla, oil, and pumpkin puree, and mix until completely combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mix until just combined, and then drop a bit less than 1/4 cup of the dough onto the cookie sheet for each cookie. Flatten each one out a bit with the back of a spoon, so they look like this:

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Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. While the cookies cool, mix the frosting ingredients until there are no lumps. (If you’re using an electric mixer, start on low speed to avoid a giant cloud of confectioners sugar.) When the cookies are completely cool, frost them and add sprinkles or chopped pecans.

All about Herbie (+ a little about chili)

Generally speaking, I don’t care about football. I don’t have a team that I follow, and my grasp on the rules of the game is tenuous at best. However, there are two things about football that I like:

1. It is no secret around this house that I am quite taken with ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit (or “Herbie”, as he is known to those of us in his inner circle). Why? Well, he is always impeccably dressed. He’s handsome, but not too handsome. When he talks about foreign concepts like “the BCS” it’s almost as though I understand and/or care, and whenever they have to take some injured player off the field on one of those little golf carts, I feel like the concern Herbie expresses comes from the very bottom of his golden heart.

Now, listen–I know that Kirk is probably married to some beautiful, poised woman who sits on the board of several non-profits and never eats cookie dough. I am well aware of that, and my moral compass points due north, so I will not show up at his house with a batch of freshly-baked scones and force him to resist my many charms. I will be content to admire him from afar and write creepy things about him on my blog.   

2. While watching the games (and waiting for Herbie sightings), I also enjoy cozy, football-friendly food. Here’s a charming little idea for when your next chili/cornbread craving hits. Make a pot of your favorite chili. (Might I suggest this one?)

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Then mix up some cornbread batter. (I used this recipe. It was good–but, as she says it’s not very sweet at all, so I added another tablespoon of maple syrup. I also added 3 chopped scallions.)

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Then layer the chili and cornbread batter in glass pint jars like this:

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I can’t be too specific on baking guidelines here, because it will depend on what cornbread recipe you use and how thick your layer of cornbread batter is. I would suggest a thinner layer than the one pictured above, because mine rose more than I expected it to and I wasn’t entirely happy with my chili-to-cornbread ratio. Live and learn, eh? It was still delicious.

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The jars will obviously be really hot when you go to eat out of them, so please use an oven mitt on your non-spoon hand. (OOOOH, this just occurred to me: you could make these for a football-watching party, tie some folksy gingham ribbon around all the jars before serving, and then give everyone a matching oven mitt as a party favor. A-DORable.)

I suppose that’s probably enough of my innermost thoughts for one day. I hope you all have a wonderful Monday!

Monday musings

Greetings, all! So, I have read approximately two articles in the last year about how to be a “better blogger” and they all say you should have a consistent posting schedule. I decided I would try to post every Monday (because doesn’t everyone need a little diversion at the beginning of the week?), but here we are on Monday, and I didn’t cook anything worth sharing with you last week. I thought I would be all set for my Monday blog post when I made this little take-off on spanakopita triangles with butternut squash and kale inside:

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I even had numerous photos of me stacking sheets of phyllo dough, so I could type out an exhaustive guide to phyllo technique. But alas, they just weren’t that delicious. So instead, Monday musings! And a craft project! Lucky you.

First, I think this is the most beautiful song ever.

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(Well, my opinion on “most beautiful song ever” changes about every week, but this is the current title-holder.) I printed the sheet music off the internet a few days ago and decided I would perfect it in case I ever needed to declare my undying love for someone in song. (You never know, guys. You never know.) It’s almost ready.

Secondly, I started thinking about Halloween, because I love Halloween costumes. I had worked out in my head the perfect Ruth Bader Ginsburg costume, and then I realized I have a wedding to go to that weekend, and I think I’m supposed to just dress like myself. Bummer. Feel free to take my costume idea.

Finally, look at this crafty platter!

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A closer look:

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I got this idea because I used to put the sticker from my daily apple on my Con Law casebook, and I thought they looked kind of pretty all layered together. My mom picked up an unfinished wooden plate at Hobby Lobby and we started covering it with the stickers back in January. Now that it’s done, it just needs a few coats of decoupage glue and some sort of waterproof coating. This is the craftiest thing I have done since I was a seven-year-old at Vacation Bible School.

Alright, carry on with your Mondays. I promise pretty food next week :)

Andre Spumante, Esq.

Friends, I come to you today with flour in my hair and joy in my heart. Guess which unemployed-yet-hopeful cupcake enthusiast just found out she passed the Iowa bar exam?

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It was me! MEEEEEEEEEEE! (That is not my usual attire, FYI–I had some bizzzness to take care of this week.)

I got the joyous news this morning, and it was not long before I had a batch of celebratory cupcakes and a nearly depleted bottle of bargain “champagne”. (Don’t worry–some of it went into the cake batter, and I did not operate any heavy machinery, just the stand mixer.) I made up a new cocktail recipe: one part Andre Spumante, two parts Pom juice. I call it the “Paula Franzese”, after a particularly effervescent professor from the bar exam review course. Cheers, Paula. You will always have an easement in my heart.

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For the cupcakes, I used a champagne layer cake recipe from a cookbook, piped on a bit of fluffy frosting, and decorated each one with a strawberry slice. Then I took them to my dad’s office, where I did most of my studying for the exam, because they were all such lovely and encouraging hosts during that time and never once commented on how I probably looked sort of like death warmed over.

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As if this weren’t enough excitement for one day, you Des Moines residents can check out Juice magazine, available on metro-area newsstands tomorrow, for a page about me and the blog, and a picture of me looking very cheerful (with cupcakes, whaddya know). If you live elsewhere, you can check it out online. To all of you new visitors….thanks for stopping by! Are any of you hiring lawyers? (Never hurts to ask.)

The recipe for the champagne cake is below. It tastes very classy. This is not health food, clearly, but it is light and fluffy due to the egg whites, and I didn’t feel the need to switch to stretchy pants after I tried one. When buying the bubbly, feel free to go up a step from the Andre–I just happen to love the “sophisticated flavor profile” and the $4.79 price tag.

Champagne Cupcakes (adapted from the Champagne Layer Cake in “The Boozy Baker” by Lucy Baker <——–This book is so much fun, by the way. Nothing but dessert and cocktail recipes. Highly recommended.)

Makes about 18 cupcakes

  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2/3 c. champagne
  • 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. cake flour (This is lighter than regular flour–good for recipes with beaten egg whites–and should be available at most grocery stores.)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 large egg whites

For the frosting:

  • 6 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 2 c. confectioners sugar
  • 2 tbsp champagne

Preheat the oven to 350, and fill two cupcake pans with paper or foil liners. Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl, until fluffy and well-combined. In a smaller bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture and the champagne to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating between the two, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer in another large bowl, until they form stiff peaks. Stir a small portion of the beaten egg whites into the champagne batter to loosen it up a bit, and then fold the rest in carefully (you want to combine everything while deflating the egg whites as little as possible). Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them just slightly over half full. Then bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

While the cupcakes cool, combine the frosting ingredients with an electric mixer–slowly at first, to avoid being covered in confectioners sugar. Then raise the speed on the mixer to incorporate air into the frosting, so it becomes light and fluffy. Wait until the cupcakes are completely cooled. Frost them with a butter knife or small spatula, or, if you want to be fancy (and who doesn’t?), put the frosting into a zip-top plastic bag, snip off a corner of the bag with scissors, and pipe the frosting onto each cupcake. Garnish with something colorful–I used strawberries.

Western Iowa (Knows How to Party)

Hey there, ladies and gents. Happy Labor Day to you and yours! I’ve been having a lovely weekend. September is my favorite month (largely because it marks the beginning of cardigan season), and so far September 2011 has been marvelous. Several reasons why:

1. That new Beyonce song, “Love on Top.” It makes me want to put in a side ponytail and go rollerskating. And–did you see her performance at the VMAs? I need to know where I can get one of those sequined business suits for my eventual debut in the workplace.

2. On Friday, I went on a little getaway with two college friends to Denison, Iowa (home to the world’s largest collection of Donna Reed memorabilia, in case you were wondering). I met up with my friend Leslie in Jefferson, my hometown, and we cruised the rest of the way through the cornfields together.

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Our friend Heather met up with us in Denison, and we headed to our home for the weekend–an adorable little B&B with a really pretty view.

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If you happen to find yourself in need of lodging in Denison, be sure to check out this rural gem. It was a great deal and we had a wonderful time chatting with the owner, Clarice, and the other guests, two European fellows in town on some sort of farm-y business. Clarice told us all kinds of her cooking secrets, many of which involved adding mayonnaise to things, and we discussed our mutual love of cookbooks published by churches and small town women’s organizations.

3. While in Denison, I sang for my old roommate LeAnn’s wedding, and Leslie and Heather were the personal attendants. It was a beautiful ceremony and the reception was a grand time!

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4. On the way back from the wedding, Leslie and I stopped in Jefferson and I gave her a brief tour of the most important sites from my formative years. The tour included lunch at the ever-popular Uptown Cafe (where, for future reference, “veggie burger” = beef patty topped with pickle slices), and meeting many of my magnificent relatives.

5. I made cookie dough balls from the new Peas and Thank You cookbook to take along on our girls’ weekend (you know, for late nights talking about boys and braiding each other’s hair).

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If you have never made these, you should do so very soon. Each day that you don’t, you are doing a disservice to yourself and every cookie-loving individual in your inner circle. Here’s the recipe, now get to work!

A word about upcoming events before I sign off: We’re supposed to get the results of the bar exam sometime next week. My mom inquired today as to whether I want “the pink Andre or the regular champagne-flavored Andre” for purposes of celebrating what she clearly assumes will be good news. (She is such a champion.) So–if I do pass, you can look forward to a recipe featuring my favorite sparkling beverage. If I do not pass, I will probably take a short blogging vacation to, ummm, reflect on my life choices (i.e. cry and eat multiple sleeves of Thin Mints). Only time will tell. Until next time, folks–have a great week!

Sweet deceit

Aren’t these cute?

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I call this creation “Chocolate-Almond Tartlets with a raspberry drizzle”. They have a graham cracker crust, a creamy, dreamy filling, and, oh yeah, they’re CHOCK-A-BLOCK FULL OF TOFU.

Occasionally, I will eat something that contains tofu at a family dinner extravaganza. When this happens, certain family members have a tendency to look at me like I’m asking them to move to my nature commune, take macrame classes, and join my Peter, Paul, and Mary cover band. In an effort to improve tofu’s reputation around here, I made these charming little desserts for our most recent dinner together, and made some intentional misrepresentations about the main ingredient. (Actually, there were no affirmative misrepresentations. More like omissions.) Everybody ate their serving with a smile (except Baby Neph, who chose to just smear some on his face), and nobody suspected I was poisoning them with “health food”. SO THERE. Tofu and I demand more respect from here on out.

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The crust is easy as can be–just put your graham crackers into a Ziploc bag and smash ‘em with a rolling pin. (Alternatively, use a food processor. More efficient, but not as much fun.) Then mix with the other ingredients until the crumbs are all moistened, press into the tartlet pans, and send them on a short visit to the oven.

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The filling comes together in a snap as well, with just a few ingredients and a little help from a food processor. The raspberry drizzle was an afterthought, but I would highly recommend it. The tartness of the berries tastes great with the sweet filling, and (more importantly, in my opinion) it looks gorgeous.

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Note: I have six tartlet pans, so that’s how many I made. Unless you fill the shells to overflowing, you will have a little bit of leftover chocolate filling. I trust that you will find something to do with it–you’re all smart people. Have a faaaaaaantastic week!

Chocolate-Almond Tartlets (makes 6 4-inch tartlets)

Graham cracker crust:

  • 1.75 c. graham cracker crumbs (I got this much from 11 crushed graham crackers)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp melted margarine or butter

Filling:

  • 1 12-oz package of firm silken tofu, drained of any excess water in the package
  • 1 1/2 tbsp almond butter
  • 2/3 c. chocolate chips
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Optional raspberry drizzle:

  • 1/2 c. raspberries, pureed and strained to remove the seeds
  • 1/2 tsp sugar

To make the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted margarine or butter until the crumbs are all moistened. Press the mixture into 6 tartlet pans. (I find it helpful to use the bottom of a small juice glass or measuring cup to make neat edges.) Bake the crusts at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Let them cool, and then carefully remove from the pans. For the filling, melt the chocolate chips and almond butter, either in the microwave or over a double-boiler. (I prefer the double boiler because I have ruined chocolate in the microwave before, and ruining chocolate is always a devastating experience for me.) Combine the melted chocolate and almond butter with the silken tofu and the vanilla extract in a food processor until completely pureed and uniform in color.

Chill the filling for at least 2 hours, and assemble the tartlets just before serving. Fill each graham cracker crust, and, if you like, garnish with a drizzle of pureed raspberries, whole raspberries, chocolate chips, or sliced almonds.

Taco Rap!

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you’ve probably seen some pictures of my baby nephew. You may have heard that his oldest sibling, my fabulous niece, designs my headers and solves my technological dilemmas. But today, we’re here to talk about my other nephew (the middle child), and the results of some dinner inspiration I received from one of his Play-Doh art projects.

This is my nephew, Will. He is a champion big brother, an aspiring alto-saxophonist, and a smart cookie.

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He is also, apparently, a sculptor and/or aspiring restauranteur. I found this plate of Play-Doh goodies in our pantry the other day, complete with price tags.

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I’m not sure how long it has been there, but I hope these hot deals are still available.

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I think the “Brat Semi” is like a bratwurst, but just half of it. For the calorie-conscious. I do not eat wursts of any sort, but you gotta admit that’s a nice price.

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The peas are a little more expensive, but they are world famous, and probably organic, too.

Here’s the one that really intrigued me:

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Doesn’t a taco rap sound good?? I thought about writing a rap about tacos and performing it via video post, but ultimately decided against that (because I know my own limits). Instead, I made a slightly healthier version of the taco salad my mom always used to make, and then I put it in a tortilla. This is not an exact recipe–it’s more like a series of suggestions–but here’s the gist of what went into this delicious creation.

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First, I made some dressing. The taco salad of my youth had a dressing made of equal parts mayonnaise and Western dressing, with a liberal sprinkling of chili powder. I swapped out the mayo for some blended raw cashews (sooooo creamy and delish), and added a little lime juice for pizzazz. The measurements:

  • 1/2 c. raw cashews (I think they’re easier to blend if you soak them in water for a few hours first and drain before using, but it’s not a necessity)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/4 c. Western dressing
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

Put all of the above in a blender and let it run until completely smooth. (This may take awhile because of the cashews, and you will need to stop a few times and scrape down the sides of the blender.) Add a bit more water if you want to thin it out.

I also made taco-seasoned tempeh, to replace the ground beef in my mom’s old recipe. I don’t eat a lot of tempeh, but occasionally I use it in things that would typically have some sort of ground meat in them. The texture is similar. I crumbled an 8 oz. package of tempeh, and browned it in a skillet with a little olive oil for about 10 minutes, adding the following seasonings as it cooked:

  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • about 1/8 tsp salt
  • a few dashes of cayenne pepper

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I spread a healthy dollop of the dressing on a tortilla, sprinkled on some of the tempeh, and topped it off with lettuce, bell pepper, tomato, and chopped scallions. Oh, and Doritos. Do NOT forget the Doritos–they are the key to success.

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That’s it for today, comrades. If you want to write a rap about tacos and leave it in the comments, that would be super cool. Bye for now!

(P.S. I’m really very sorry if you happened to get multiple notifications about this post via your email subscription–my blogging software is all screwed up. And my niece had to go and start 8th grade, so I have nobody competent here to assist me.)

Satisfactorily sauced

Canning season continues! Because we’re very sensible people, we’re preparing for the harsh winter ahead by capturing as much garden bounty in glass jars as possible. Sure, it may be balmy out today, but soon enough it will look like this:

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And then, some poor saps will be stuck inside with nothing but ramen and ketchup. Not MOI, my friends! I’ll be under an electric blanket, watching Sister Wives with a big bowl of home-sauced spaghetti.

To make this recipe you need about 16 pounds of tomatoes. How does one come by 16 pounds of tomatoes, you ask? Well, you could go buy them, but you have to be careful that they don’t come from a million miles away and taste like mealy nothingness. You could grow them. Or–you could find yourself a tomato guy. I have one. His name is Elmer, and he lives about 80 miles from here. We go way back. We received word a few days ago that Elmer was in possession of a giant bucket of garden tomatoes. A rendezvous was arranged at the Godfather’s Pizza in Adel, IA (a convenient mid-point), and thus the stage was set for some serious sauce makin’.

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You need to peel the tomatoes first, and I suggest you do this by putting them in boiling water for about a minute until the skins break and then dropping them into ice water. They should peel easily after that. Then, you pretty much just throw everything into a pot and let it simmer while you go about your business for two hours. Your home will smell like Giada’s. Note: that is just an assumption because Giada has never invited me to one of her girl’s-night dinners full of pan-CETT-a.

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Just like back when we had our chat about pickles, you need to boil your jars and lids to sterilize them and get a good seal.

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To test this stuff out (and to make sure I was not leading you fine people astray), I made a little lasagna with zucchini from our garden and some tofu ricotta. (Tofu ricotta = tofu mashed with a fork, jazzed up with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and some nutritional yeast if you have it.) It was delicious, in a no-fake-ingredients, made-with-love, I-would-do-a-cartwheel-if-I-hadn’t-already-broken-my-wrist-twice kind of way. So here’s the recipe! See you cats and kittens later.

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Spaghetti Sauce (full batch will fill about 8 pint jars)

  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 small onions, diced
  • 3 bell peppers, diced (whatever color you like, or a combination)
  • 16 lbs. tomatoes, peeled, cored, and diced (*Drain off most of the juice, but save some in case you’d like to use it to thin out the sauce at any point)
  • 2 12-oz cans of tomato paste
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley (or about 2 tbsp dried parsley)
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano leaves (or 1/2-1 tbsp dried oregano)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • 3/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 bay leaves (leave them whole and fish them out at the end, or just crush them between your hands when you put them in and don’t worry about finding them later)

Sautee the garlic, bell pepper, and diced onion in the olive oil for about 10 minutes, and then pour all of this into a large pot. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 hours. If you would like it to be thicker, just cook longer. Boil the jars and lids for 15 minutes. Then, fill them with the sauce, screw on the lids, and let them cool on the counter. When they’re cool, check for a proper seal–press on the lid and make sure it doesn’t pop down and back up. If any of the jars didn’t seal properly, store them in the refrigerator and use them as soon as you can.

Cookie platter masterpiece

About two years ago, my mom and I went to Sweden to visit one of her oldest friends, Katie. (See this post for more on the trip/fun with yeast bread.) Katie and her husband were wonderful hosts and tour guides, AND…..she gave me a cookbook.

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This cookbook, as I understand it, is a Big Deal in Swedish kitchens–it was first published in 1945 and there have been several editions since then. When she gave it to me, Katie told me that traditionally, Swedish ladies would invite their friends over for coffee and serve dainty sweets from the book. And, if you were really an A+ lady known for throwing kick-ass parties, you would make seven different kinds. The foreword to the book confirms this, but then backs off a bit in the last sentence shown below:

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“But in today’s world, there is seldom time for more than one or two kinds”?! Is that a challenge, Lady Who Wrote This Cookbook Foreword? Because if it is, I ACCEPT. I will make seven different kinds of cookies, because that’s what you need to be an A+ lady known for throwing kick-ass parties, and that’s pretty much what I’ve always wanted to be when I grow up. Plus, I’m currently unemployed, so what the hell, right?

I decided to attempt this feat when I was put in charge of dessert for a luncheon at my dad’s office this week. It began, like all of my grand schemes, with a list on a yellow legal pad.

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(Just so you know, around these parts we call lemon bars “lemon love notes.” It sounds much lovelier, so I suggest you do the same. I’m hoping it’ll catch on.)

I whisked, zested, rolled, and sprinkled, and ended up with this:

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The roster: 1) thumbprints with raspberry jam, 2) lime-scented macaroons, 3) chocolate slices with ganache and pearl sugar, 4) chocolate cut-outs with raspberry flowers, 5) lemon love notes, 6) peanut butter chocolate chip mini muffins, and 7) chocolate cigars.

This was not quite as insane as it looks, because I made really small batches of everything, and the thumbprints and mini muffins were made from essentially the same dough, as were the chocolate slices and chocolate cut-outs. Also, it was totally worth it, because when I put everything on the platter and stepped back to admire my handiwork, my heart swelled with joy, similar to the joy I expect to feel someday at the birth of my first child. (OK, I am prone to exaggeration. But I was pretty delighted.)

I’m going to type out the recipe for the chocolate cigars, because they’re my fave. They’re kind of like sandies, if you’re familiar with those, but better because they’re half-dipped in chocolate. They’re also vegan if you use Earth Balance instead of butter, which I did, with no adverse effects on the finished product.¬†¬†Make these, make six more things, and then take your ladies luncheon on the road, because you’re gonna be a star :)

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Chocolate Cigars (straight from “Swedish Cakes and Cookies” or “Sju Sorters Kakor” for you Swedish-speakers)

  • 3/4 c. stick margarine or butter, softened (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 c. ground walnuts (I pulsed mine in the food processor)
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 tbsp milk or light cream (almond milk here)
  • For dipping: 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (I melted about 1/2 c. chocolate chips in a double boiler, with one teaspoon coconut oil for shine, and a couple tablespoons of almond milk to thin it out.)

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the nuts and flour, then the milk. (I chilled the dough at this point. The cookbook doesn’t say to do this, but I think it’ll make what comes next easier.) Roll into small finger-thick ropes and cut into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces. Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake on the center oven rack for around 12 minutes at 350 degrees. When the cookies have cooled, melt the chocolate and dip one end of each cookie.