I Love Burning My Face Off With Mrs. Renfro’s Habanero Salsa

5 Feb

I live in North Dakota. A faraway prairie land made of frozen things. At first glance, the landscape is as bland as our people’s palates. We’re not known for our culture other than what people know from the Coen Bros. movie “Fargo.”

We’re milquetoast. We’re bland. We like potatoes and corn and creamed beef on toast.

Well, by “we” I mean not me. I mean those other people I’m stereotyping.

Me, I like food hot. The hotter the better. I want my tongue to burn, my lips to tingle, my cheeks to flush. I want tangy, burning-bold, I’m-gonna-cry sizzle.

Here, let me prove it to you. In my fridge you will find the following:

A bottle of sriracha sauce.

A bottle of Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce.

And of course, my Mrs. Renfro’s Habanero Salsa.

Labeling it “hot” is an understatement. Mrs. Renfro’s Habanero is everything I look for in a jarred salsa. Of course, fresh is always best, but there’s no better sensation than a good kick-in-the-mouth-heat. I put it on scrambled tofu. I dip it with chips. I stick my finger right in the jar as if it’s peanut butter.

Always, always, have Mrs. Renfro’s. It’s my life’s goal.

I can’t really tell you why I like spicy so much. My mother says it’s because she ate a lot of burritos when she was pregnant with me. I don’t have the heart to tell her that Taco John’s burritos hardly constitutes real Mexican food. They’re like hotdish.

I’m also at the point now that just the mere suggestion of spice causes my mouth to water. Sometimes it’s even downright scary, as I’ve been known to use sriracha like ketchup.

So I’m just curious, what is your favorite spice that you can’t live without?

The Year of the Bean Part One: The Cassoulet

4 Feb

This year, my coworker Christine, aka Christine Bean, and I signed up for Rancho Gordo’s Bean Club. For $50 four times a year, this amazing company sends directly to our doors artisan heirloom beans and grains. As part of our first shipments, we received four different types of beans as well as bonus packages of quinoa, Rancho Gordo aprons and a wall calendar.

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Christine has agreed to start a journal of poetics about our beans. Throughout the year, we’re going to post poems, recipes, short stories, sudden fictions, photos – all about the bean. We’re very excited to try out Rancho Gordo products and tell you all about them. By next December, we hope to have a public reading. Come see us! In the meantime, here’s the first of many bean-centric posts to come, and it’s a celebration of the Mighty Cassoulet.

I tried the cassoulet beans first because it was cold out and I needed some warming stew with a very meaty bean. Here they are, soaking overnight. I see a floater!

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The Cassoulet bean is a popular bean in France, often added to comforting cold-weather casserole dishes. Most of the recipes I found that included the Cassoulet bean included animal protein from rabbit or lamb. Since I didn’t feel like hunting our alley for rabbit or killing a baby sheep, I decided to take all my knowledge of cooking vegan stews to create Vegan Stew with Heirloom Cassoulet Beans.

What I was craving: I wanted a satisfying, comforting soup that still had a thin yet creamy broth.
So I included: Cassoulet beans, organic barley, stewed tomatoes with juice and lots of veggie broth.

I wanted vegetables, too: Nothing sweetens a stew like root vegetables.
So I added: Potatoes and lots of cabbage. I would have added carrots, too, but the ones in the crisper were looking a little limp and sad.

I wanted savory, chunky and filling: So I didn’t puree anything and just simmered everything together for a few hours until the vegetables were soft and the broth was creamy from the barley starch.

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The results: It may not look like much, but paired with a slice of crusty French bread for dipping, this stew held up to be a creamy, hearty, beany wonder.

Vegan Stew with Rancho Gordo’s Heirloom Cassoulet Beans

1 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet yellow onion, diced
2 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 head of cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes with juice
4C vegetable broth
1/2 C barley
2 C cooked Cassoulet beans

In a large pan over medium low heat, add the olive oil and garlic. Cook for five minutes to release the flavor, being careful to not burn it. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes with juice, barley, beans and 2C of the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Cook for an hour and check stew for broth consistency. It should be translucent yet creamy. Add the remaining 2C of broth if it’s too think for your liking. Garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese (NOT VEGAN) and serve with toasted bread or crackers.

Do you know how to KISS?

4 Feb

Do you know how to KISS?.

What vegetable can you not live without?

16 Jan

Today over a lunch of stir-fry and brown rice, the Lunch Ladies got into a heated debate about vegetables. Chef Lori waxed poetic about her favorite: the almighty onion, while Chef Heather couldn’t say enough about green pepper. As for myself, I’m torn between broccoli and a vegetable that is technically a fruit: the tomato, of course. But I’d have to say broccoli slighty beats tomato because it’s just so darn colorful and crunchy.

broccoli

But that got us to thinking: There really isn’t any one vegetable that we eat on its own that doesn’t benefit from the flavorful additions of other vegetables. Is there anything better than a sweet red onion sauteed with fresh zucchini? I can’t imagine fajitas without green peppers … and onion. And as for broccoli, I love it even more when I can have carrots and celery added to the mix.

Before I get to today’s recipe, which will use all three of the Lunch Ladies’ favorite vegetables, I’d like to ask you: What vegetable can you not live without?

Wild Rice Hot Pot

1 red onion
1 head of broccoli, stemmed and diced
1 fresh green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 C cooked wild rice
1 C diced mushrooms
1 C vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 C nutritional yeast
1/4 C corn, fresh or frozen
1/4 C green beans, fresh or  frozen
olive oil
parmesan cheese

In a large pot, heat up 1 T olive oil. Dice and add the red onion and saute for five minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and mushrooms and saute for another five minutes or until the mushrooms are tender. Add the rest of the vegetables, the rice, the vegetable stock and the nutritional yeast. If you don’t like the flavor of nutritional yeast, simply omit it. Cook until the vegetables are tender but not soft. They should have a little bit of crunch to them. Add more vegetable stock if you like a creamier texture. Serve warm with a few generous sprinkles of parmesan.

13 Dec

In case you missed yesterday’s post. Coming up later today: Boiling farfalle in a Crock Pot. Supreme victory or Epic fail? VOTE NOW. FIND OUT LATER.

deskchef

The Desk Chefs have been on a three-week hiatus from our Monday through Friday lunch sharing program. But have no fear, we’re chopping and stewing and enticing our coworkers with the sounds and smells of fresh grub once again. Today is Italian-herbed Orzo Soup, made in honor of Chef Heather’s need for a culinary cure to the cold-and-flu. Read on for the recipe. It’s easy, savory, comforting and full of warming, hearty vegetables like carrots, potatoes and cauliflower.

I know you’ve been worried about me. Here’s what I’ve been up to …

K-Rock and I traveled to Denver for Thanksgiving to be with his gracious and elegant 89-year-old great aunt and uncle. They live in a penthouse apartment overlooking Cheesman Park to the east and the glorious mountains to the west. This was the first time in a while that my traveling experience didn’t revolve around food. And here’s why:…

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The (Two) Perks of Being a Fargoan

12 Dec

The Desk Chefs have been on a three-week hiatus from our Monday through Friday lunch sharing program. But have no fear, we’re chopping and stewing and enticing our coworkers with the sounds and smells of fresh grub once again. Today is Italian-herbed Orzo Soup, made in honor of Chef Heather’s need for a culinary cure to the cold-and-flu. Read on for the recipe. It’s easy, savory, comforting and full of warming, hearty vegetables like carrots, potatoes and cauliflower.

I know you’ve been worried about me. Here’s what I’ve been up to …

K-Rock and I traveled to Denver for Thanksgiving to be with his gracious and elegant 89-year-old great aunt and uncle. They live in a penthouse apartment overlooking Cheesman Park to the east and the glorious mountains to the west. This was the first time in a while that my traveling experience didn’t revolve around food. And here’s why: everyone is happy and healthy in Denver. Unlike Fargoans, nobody shuffles down the street, looking at their shoes and scowling at the world. Denverites hold their heads high, they’re active (30,000 people at the annual Turkey Trot 4-miler), and they’re proud of their beautiful city and the nature that cradles it in its arms. Instead of spending my time asking the locals about the best spot for pizza and sushi, we spent hours outdoors walking, running and talking to people about the recent decriminalization of marijuana for non-medical purposes.

Having wholeheartedly fallen in love with everything about Denver but the traffic (oy), we do know that there are at least a couple of perks to being a Fargoan. If you’re curious or even skeptical of the mere idea that Fargo is a good place to live, here’s a really short list (which in all honesty probably isn’t terribly convincing).

The (Two) Perks of Being a Fargoan

You’re a big fish in a non-existent pond. It’s easy to make a name for yourself here because the population is relatively small and most of the people who are truly motivated by things other than lake season and binge drinking move away after college.

There’s lots of “scenes,” but don’t wait for them to find you. Having claimed that it’s easy to become something of yourself here, it takes a lot of searching, networking and energy to find a social scene that suits you. Like to knit? There’s a club right on Main Avenue if Fargo. Into physically torturing yourself? Well, the local Cross Fit Club is where you should be. Enjoy silently judging people? Go to the mall!

So I guess I’m not feeling super proud of my 33 years living in Fargo. And it could just be time to move on – or gain a more valuable and healthy perspective of my surroundings. In the meantime, here’s that recipe I was telling you about. Perfect for mid-December lunches when life seems as drab as a dirty dish towel.

Italian-herbed Orzo Soup

1 T olive oil
2 C prepared chickpeas
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red onion, chopped coarsely
1 red potato, skin on, sliced and halved
2 large carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
1 head of cauliflower, coarsely chopped
3 C tomato sauce
1/4 C nutritional yeast
1 T dried thyme
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried rosemary, crushed
1 T red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Caramelize the red onion in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the minced garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the vegetables, beans, tomato sauce and nutritional yeast. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer and add the herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer for another 45 minutes or until your veggies are to your preferred tenderness.

Thanks for the props, Find Me Frugal(er)!

26 Oct

DeskChef is getting more fans every day.

 

Properly Re-toxed: One Week after the Cleanse

26 Oct

The Desk Chefs are one week post-detox and we’re still going strong with a mostly vegan, gluten-free lifestyle … at least for breakfast and lunch. However, I’ve completely re-toxed with red wine, and I know Chefs Lori and Heather have had a couple run-ins with some donuts and ice cream. Regardless, we’ve all lost a few pounds and an inch or two. The lasting part of the detox, though, is gaining a new appreciation for food – both preparing it and being creative with it. Vegetables have never tasted so good. I don’t crave sweets anymore, and I can pass on the French baguettes.

In fact, K-Rock ordered my favorite dessert last night at Sarello’s: maple nut bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel drizzle. I didn’t once dip a spoon into it. I was proud and happy to watch him savor it on his own (Lord knows he needs the extra cals now that he’s training for the marathon in Rome).

As for our cubicle lunches: they’ve stayed gluten free and vegan, and all three of us are perfectly happy continuing to eat this way. Chef Heather made an amazing wheatberry salad that reminded me of a chunky gazpacho. Maybe a little out of season in the Fall, but it was refreshing nonetheless.

Wheatberry Salad

(adapted from Med Team Weight Loss)

1 Cup wheat berries preferably the soft white variety
1 lb tomatoes finely chopped
1 green bell pepper finely chopped
1 cucumber halved, lengthwise, seeded and finely chopped
3 celery stalks cut lengthwise into thirds and finely chopped
1/2 small red onion finely chopped
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp Garlic Salt optional
Sriracha

Soak and cook the wheatberries according to the package instructions. Cool and add the rest of the ingredients. Marinate for 20 minutes. Serve chilled.

Detox Day 7: Lonna’s Everything Vegan Detox Soup

15 Oct

K-Rock and I got home last night from a short trip to Minneapolis where it was relatively easy to find detox-friendly food while out with friends. Saturday night, we went to a restaurant, Cafe Maude, in south Minneapolis, where the “vegetarian inspiration of the moment” was a gluten-free, vegan black lentil cassoulet. Delicious. Nourishing. Satisfying. It’s great to get out of Fargo and be in a city where healthy, clean eating is not only embraced, but is the norm as well.

I have to admit, however, Saturday night’s celebration, which included both a birthday dinner earlier in the evening and a house party later that night, tested every inch of my self-control. The wine poured freely into the glasses of everyone around me while I sipped on tepid chamomile. Engaging in conversation was even a bit of a struggle for me because I couldn’t comment on the calamari and mussels our table ate for the first course. Later, at the house party, people were getting a little loose and I progressively got more annoyed, as often happens when I’m the only stone-cold sober person in the room. So I asked my gracious guest to show me to my room where I laid down on an air mattress and fell asleep to the sounds of late-night laughter.

Since we got home later in the day, I didn’t have much energy to cook for today’s lunch at the office. Fortunately, I had a lot of great root vegetables stocked up in the fridge that were just screaming to be added to a soup, along with some rice and beans. I’m calling it Lonna’s Everything Vegan Detox Soup because it has everything in it that I didn’t feel like saving for just the right moment, because that’s how I end up wasting perfectly good produce. I was able to use a few leftovers, too, including some chick peas I had left over from Friday night’s Wild Rice Stuffed Portabella Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Rosemary Squash. 

One of my top ten favorite food brands, Bob’s Red Mill, has a fantastic soup starter called Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix. It includes a variety of protein-abundant beans and gut-cleansing grains. I like to use it when I cook chili, or in this case, an everything in the refrigerator kind of soup that’s both filling and nutrient-rich. Add a few drops of your favorite hot sauce and reap the cleansing benefits of capsaicin!

I’m also calling it Lonna’s Everything Vegan Detox Soup because you can pretty much add any vegetable to it and it’s going to taste pretty darn good. This time, I added a lot of cabbage for its liver detoxifying powers. If cabbage makes you gassy, try adding cauliflower or green beans. If those make you gassy too, you’re likely not eating enough vegetables.

The more you eat your veggies and beans (the magical fruit), the less you’ll toot!

Lonna’s Everything Vegan Detox Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp cayenne
1 tbsp crushed dried rosemary
1/2 head of chopped cabbage
1 red onion
2 C stewed tomatoes, with juice
2 carrots, chopped
1 zucchini, peeled and chopped
1 C Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grains and Beans Soup Mix

In a large soup pot, over medium heat, saute the red onion in the olive oil for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another 5 minutes. Add the stewed tomatoes and their juice and simmer for 10 minutes. In the meantime, wash, prep and chop all the veggies. Here’s the magic of this soup: From here on out, you get to add everything all at once, making it literally the easiest meal you’ll make all week.

After the onion, garlic and tomatoes have simmered for 10 minutes, add the remaining ingredients, including the herbs and a cup or two of water. Season with Bragg Liquid Aminos and more cayenne if you desire more of a kick. Simmer on medium to low heat for one hour or until the beans are tender. Top with chopped avocado if you want a creamy texture.

Detox Day 5 … and a Half: “Spasquashi” and Wild Rice Stuffed Portabella Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Rosemary Squash

13 Oct

It’ 6:41 p.m. and I feel like a grounded tween on a Friday night.

I’m at home because most of my friends – including my beloved K-Rock – are out celebrating the end of the week at happy hour with libations and gourmet appetizers. Libations are woefully prohibited during the ten-day cleanse, and what I wouldn’t give for a glass of Malbec, or hell, even a decent (gasp) Merlot. Instead I’ll sip on some hot lemon water, maybe even add some freshly grated ginger to liven things up.

Appetizers are also out of the question, especially my favorite: pan-seared sushi grade tuna on a crisp wonton shell, nested on a bed of fresh greens, served with wasabi soy sauce and pickled ginger to cut the kick. As I make my own mouth water, I realize that one thing isn’t out of the picture: gourmet. For lunch, Chef Lori cooked a spaghetti squash to perfection and served it to us with her trustworthy marinara. We’re calling it Spasquashi. Get it? Spaghetti and squash? Ugh, nevermind (I need a drink). Keep reading and you’ll get to the recipe at the end!

Also gourmet? My latest culinary creation that’s baking as we speak: Wild Rice Stuffed Portabella Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Rosemary Squash.

Here’s what I wanted and how I got what I wanted without using gluten, dairy, meat, sugar, sodium or anything out of a box, container, jar or bag:

I wanted:
A Boca burger
So I included:
Giant Portabella mushroom caps because you can’t get any meatier without killing something

I wanted:
Texture
So I made:
Wild rice and quinoa seasoned lightly with sea salt and pepper

I wanted:
Substance
So I added:
Chickpeas

I wanted:
Nutty, salty and sweet
So I threw into the mix:
Half an acorn squash and roasted, salted pepitas
You might think I’m in a very multiple personality mood right now as you read my palate’s diverse requests, but I tell you, the results are amazing. A fusion of sweet, savory, nutty, smooth and substantial that blends together and creates a simple yet sophisticated detox dinner!

Wild Rice Stuffed Portabella Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Rosemary Squash

Makes 4

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cooked acorn squash
4 large portabella mushroom caps, washed and destemmed
1/2 red onion diced
2 cloves garlic minced
Pinch of dried rosemary
1/3C cooked wild rice and quinoa mixed
1/8 C pepitas
1/3 C cooked chickpeas
1/2 zucchini, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. coconut milk or other milk, depending on your dietary needs
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Heat over medium flame the olive oil. Add the red onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes, then add the cooked wild rice quinoa mix, the chopped zucchini and the chick peas. Salt lightly and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 more minutes. In the meantime, prepare the mushrooms by gingerly dressing them with olive oil and about 2 tsp. of balsamic vinegar each. Stick in the oven for about 5 minutes to soften them slightly. While they’re in the oven, puree the cooked squash with the coconut milk and the rosemary. Take the mushroom caps out of the oven, scoop the wild rice chick pea filling into each of the 4 caps. Sprinkle each with the pepitas. You should have just enough stuffing for all 4. If you have too much, you did something wrong. Not really, but I’m guessing you made too much quinoa and wild rice.

Next, add a generous dollop of whipped rosemary squash to the top of all 4 stuffed mushrooms. Then they’re ready for the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the tops are slightly brown.

Chef Lori’s Spasquashi
1 cooked spaghetti squash, forked out to mimic spaghetti noodles
Easy Peasy Marinara

This is the perfect office lunch, but don’t mix the marinara with the squash until you’re ready to eat because it might get soggy if you do. Nuke both in the break room microwave and serve with a crisp romaine salad and balsamic vinaigrette.

Happy weekend everybody!

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