Bacon, Pizza Two Ways, and a Little Life Update

It’s been far too long! I confess I have been distracted by many things in the past month. I know life updates are not my usual blog post topic, but last weekend Ric and I graduated from seminary, Ric recently got a new job, and we will be moving to the ‘burbs in a few short weeks!  Lots going on around here. In the midst of all this, my poor blog has been forsaken. I do apologize.

I also have a confession to make…

I ate meat for the first time in four years.

Bacon … the gateway drug  meat.

Let me explain. The main reason I am a vegetarian is because I do not want to support the majority of the meat industry, whose business practices are shady, and who treat farmers horribly, and sell questionable meat packed with antibiotics, growth hormones, steroids, and who knows what else. (Google probably knows.) Animals are raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation); they are packed in with hundreds or even hundreds of thousands (in the case of chickens, for instance) of other animals, with no room to move around. This negatively impacts the environment, pollutes waterways (potentially harming people), and harms the animals themselves. They get sick easily, which necessitates the antibiotics, and are basically standing in their own filth. Disgusting. For more information about the whole dang meat industry, I suggest watching the documentary Food, Inc. OK, done ranting.

For the past few years, my church has had a partnership with a local farm. We personally know the farmer, and we often buy eggs from her. She comes to our church a couple times a month and sells meat and eggs. We know that she has a small family farm and they are dedicated to raising hogs in their natural environment. They do not use growth hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. And it makes a difference. They produce quality meat that tastes great. If you’re in Chicago, you can find C&D Farms at farmers markets and other locations, listed on their website. We had bought some bacon from Crystal, the farmer, for a big family brunch. I figured I knew exactly where it came from and that I could trust its quality, so I ate it. And it was delicious.

All of this to say, I still consider myself a vegetarian, but you may find me eating some meat from a local farm once in a blue moon.

OK… confessions of a bacon-eating vegetarian out of the way. Time for pizza.

If you know me, you probably know how much I love pizza. I think I could eat pizza every day. I might if it was in any way healthy.

I’ve got two pizzas for you. The first, Ric made, and the second was my creation. I wasn’t very specific with amounts for ingredients, because you can decide for yourself how much you want on your pizza. That’s the great thing about pizza — you can throw whatever you want on some dough and call it good!

Pizza #1: Tomato and Asparagus with Goat Cheese (yum)

Look at that beauty!

Ingredients:
pre-made pizza dough
asparagus
cherry tomatoes
goat cheese
olive oil
garlic (optional)
herbs for flavoring (oregano, basil, or we used herbes de provence)

Before making the pizza, you’ll need to blanch your asparagus. Blanch is just a fancy word for giving your asparagus a quick bath in boiling water. Blanching helps preserve the yummy flavor, crisp texture, and bright green color. First, prepare a bowl with ice and cold water and set aside.

Next, Bring a pot of water to a boil on medium-high heat, drop your asparagus in, and cook for 2-5 minutes (until it turns bright green). Remove the asparagus with tongs or a slotted spoon and put them in the bowl of ice water. This will stop them from cooking any further.

Now, get your dough and stretch it out. We get our dough from Trader Joe’s (of course). And even though I know wheat is healthier, we usually get the white dough because it’s easier to work with and tastes better.

Drizzle your dough with olive oil. Spread with minced garlic if you’re into that. Top with asparagus (you can cut them up if you want; we just left them whole), crumbled goat cheese, tomatoes and herbs. Consult the dough packaging for cooking instructions.

Pizza #2 Potato and Asparagus Pizza (mmm, carb-y)

Ingredients:
pre-made pizza dough
1 large potato, boiled and thinly sliced
asparagus
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or creme fraiche
2 tbsp. olive oil
garlic
parmesan cheese
goat cheese, aka the love of my life (sorry, Ric)
herbes de provence (a blend of rosemary, thyme, and marjoram)
salt and pepper

Boil your potato until soft, and cut into thin slices. Blanch your asparagus using the directions above.

Stretch out your dough. Drizzle with 1 tbsp. olive oil and cover in garlic slices. Season liberally with fresh cracked pepper, and just a little bit of salt.

Cover the dough with potato slices and drizzle those with the remaining oil and the cream. I consulted another recipe for the amount of cream and it suggested 1/2 cup, but I used just under that amount. I suggest starting with 1/4 cup and adding more as needed. Once you’re done with the cream, season the potatoes with herbes de provence.

Lay the asparagus over potatoes, and sprinkle goat cheese and parmesan cheese over everything. Use as much or as little as you like.

Bake at 425° for 35-40 minutes, until cream is bubbling and dough is golden brown around the edges.

Voila!

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Mushroom & Tofu Quesadillas

Picture this: It’s a Monday night. You’ve just gotten home from work with no plans for dinner, and you don’t exactly have a well-stocked kitchen. You spend a long time standing in front of your fridge, door open, staring into it, hoping a meal will just put itself together.

This is an all-too-common scenario for me, and probably for many of you, too. I kind of hate this and I kind of love it. Hate it, because most of the time I just want something easy and I don’t feel like concocting a recipe out of whatever random ingredients I’ve got. But I love it because it is a chance to get creative and to be resourceful. I really try not to waste food. Of course it happens sometimes anyway, but on nights like these where I need to make up a recipe on the spot, I try to use as many things in my fridge that really need to be used up before they go bad.

So, tonight I looked in my fridge and picked out bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, onion, tortillas, tofu, and cheese. I decided to make some quesadillas. And they actually turned out pretty dang good.

Mushroom & Tofu Quesadillas (serves 2-4, depending how hungry you are)
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 portobello mushrooms, cut into 1 inch pieces
8 oz firm or extra-firm tofu, crumbled* (a regular size container is 14-16 oz.)
1/2 medium-large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Freshly ground sea salt and pepper to taste
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. chili powder, depending how spicy you want it
1-2 Tbsp. oil (olive oil, grapeseed, canola.. whatever you got)
4 flour tortillas
vegan cheese or real, shredded for topping (we used real pepperjack)

*A note about the tofu: we sometimes freeze our tofu and then defrost it in the fridge. Freezing it gives it a more crumbly, substantial texture, and also makes it a lot easier to press (pressing tofu means pressing out the excess water). If you’ve never cooked with tofu and don’t know how to press it, check out this handy how-to. The video says to use a book, but you can really use anything a little bit heavy that will sit on the top plate. Also, I’ve never waited 40 minutes for my tofu to press. I’m too impatient. I probably wait 5 minutes tops. If you’re in a pinch and don’t feel like using the plate method, you can use paper towels or any clean cotton towel – just wrap the tofu up and squeeze to push the water out. If you have frozen and defrosted your tofu beforehand, the water is much easier to get out.

Pour 1 Tbsp. oil into large sauté pan. Heat oil over medium-high heat and add onion, pepper, and tofu. Sauté until veggies are soft. Add mushrooms and garlic. You can add another Tbsp. oil if needed. Season with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Cook until mushrooms are soft.

Meanwhile, lightly spray or brush each side of your tortillas with oil, and heat in a separate sauté pan over medium heat. Warm each side of the tortilla for about a minute.

On each tortilla, spoon some tofu mixture onto half of the tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese and fold the other half of the tortilla over.

Put the tortillas on a pan and pop in the oven at 300 °F for a few minutes, until cheese is melted.

Cut into triangles and serve!

Tom’s Tacos

When I was in college my friend Lauri (Hi, Lauri!) introduced me to her Dad’s delicious taco recipe. At the time I was skeptical, because I saw as she was making it that she put raisins into the mix. I’m not a huge fan of raisins, so I was doubtful that this would taste any good. But let me tell you something, it was more than good. It was delicious. The raisins plump up when you cook them and add a sweetness to the taco mix that you’re not expecting. Once you try it, you’ll never go back to raisin-less tacos.

I love this recipe because it is so quick and easy. It’s great for when you don’t have a lot of time, or don’t feel like spending forever in the kitchen prepping a meal.

The original recipe calls for ground beef, but I use Morningstar Farm’s grillers recipe crumbles. If you’re looking for it in the store, head to the frozen section. Here’s a picture so you know what to look for. You can buy these at Target and most major grocery stores.

Normally I don’t do the fake meat thing. I have committed to the vegetarian diet, and I don’t think I need to be eating fake meat every day to supplement my lack of real meat. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I also like to try to stick to Michael Pollan’s food rules, one being, “avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.” Unfortunately a lot of the meat alternatives have scary ingredients list a mile long with things I don’t recognize.

Anyway, that being said, once in a while I will buy something like these soy crumbles to use in a recipe. Hey, sometimes the fake meat just tastes good. Everything in moderation, right?

On to the recipe!

Tom’s Tacos (6-8 servings)
1 bag meal starters crumbles
1/2 cup raisins (do not skip these or you will regret it!)
1 medium onion, chopped (optional)
1 medium green pepper, chopped (optional)
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 16 oz. jar salsa
1/4 cup water
1 dozen flour tortillas or crisp corn taco shells

Toppings:
1 bag shredded cheddar cheese
1 small head iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 large tomatoes, diced
Salsa for garnish

FYI — To cut preparation time and simplify the recipe, I usually just stick with the crumbles, raisins, garlic, and salsa. I don’t add onion or pepper just because those things are already in the salsa, and it’s definitely flavorful enough without them. But it’s up to you. Maybe one day I’ll actually put in some effort and try the original recipe.

In a large skillet, cook the soy crumbles over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until they soften up and are heated through.

Add raisins, onion, pepper, garlic, salsa, and water. Simmer until onions and peppers are tender, and sauce has reduced to a thick consistency.


Yum!

Once it’s all heated and thickened up, you’re done! Serve them up the way you like them! Thanks to Tom and Lauri for the recipe! 🙂

How to Eat a Pomegranate

I love pomegranates.

I didn’t actually ever try one until last year. Before that, I had no experience with pomegranates, except for what I read in Greek mythology about Persephone eating one and then forever having to live in Hades. (I love Greek mythology.) I don’t know why I had never tried one, but last year R brought one home from work and I was so excited to try it!

But I wondered… how the heck do you eat one? How do you open it? Good question. Google answered that for me, but I want to answer it for you.

Because chances are, if you’ve never done it before and you try to cut it open with no guidance, you will get pomegranate juice everywhere, and trust me, you don’t want that. It stains everything. Kind of like beet juice (except that pomegranates are wayyy more appetizing than beets will ever be.)

To begin with, make sure your pomegranate is ripe. It should be a deep, shiny red, and there shouldn’t be any real soft spots.

Step 1: Cut off the very top and the very bottom. You might cut through a couple of seeds, but that’s OK.

Step 2: Make 4 cuts around the sides, just cutting through the skin. Do not slice all the way through the pomegranate. You want the seeds in the middle to be intact when you open it.

Step 3: Fill a large bowl with water. Holding the pomegranate under the water, gently pull it apart, separating the seeds from the skin. The reason you want to do it in the water is so a) you don’t get juice everywhere, and b) the papery skin will float to the top, and the seeds will sink to the bottom. I love getting all the seeds out. There is something incredibly satisfying about breaking it open, pulling back the skin, and discovering a giant cluster of glistening ruby-red seeds just waiting to be eaten.

I pulled out some pieces of the pomegranate after pulling it apart underwater. Isn’t it pretty? I think the pomegranate is just beautiful.

Step 4: Once you’ve got all of the seeds out, skim the papery stuff out of the water, and then you can dump the seeds into a colander. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or so. You can just eat them plain for a snack (so delicious!), or try mixing them into greek yogurt with a little honey, or sprinkle them on your morning cereal or oatmeal! Enjoy.

Make Your Own Veggie Stock

Remember this post, when I was longing for some little piggies to consume all of my lovely vegetable scraps?

A friend of mine wisely suggested that instead of investing in pigs, I follow the advice of Poor Girl Eats Well and make my own vegetable stock. Such a great idea, and best of all it costs you basically nothing. Why would you want to make your own stock, you may ask? Well, if you’re interested in making soup this fall/winter, most soup recipes call for some kind of stock, and why go spend money on it when you can make your own for free?! Vegetable stock is also great when used in place of water for preparing rice or other whole grains. But for me, I think the biggest reason that I love this idea is that I love being resourceful. With this recipe I am getting the most out of my veggies — using every part of them — before they go in the compost. How much more resourceful can you get?

To start with, you’ll need a gallon-sized zip-top freezer bag. From now on, whenever you are chopping up veggies for a recipe, don’t throw your scraps away. Instead, you’re going to toss them in your bag and freeze them, saving up for the day when you can make your very own veggie stock.

I keep this list on the side of my fridge, so whenever I’m chopping up veggies, I can refer to it and see what I should and shouldn’t toss in my scrap bag.

Oh hey, Seattle Pacific.

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the best veggies to use. You can also use asparagus, parsnips, squash, fennel, corn cobs, pea pods, and cilantro, but I didn’t use any of these because there is a word of caution with these veggies — they will flavor your stock in a specific way that you may not want. Or maybe you do. Whatever floats your boat.

You don’t only have to use scraps leftover from chopping — feel free to toss anything in the bag that may be in your fridge on the cusp of going bad. Or maybe you know you won’t use it before it actually does go bad. Just don’t use anything that is actually rotten, or anything you wouldn’t want to eat. Gross.

You should also avoid turnips, cabbage, and brussels sprouts because they will become bitter.

Once you have filled up your freezer bag (it took me about a month) you are ready to make your stock. The only other things you need are water, a 6 qt. pot, a fine-meshed strainer, bay leaves, salt, and some freezer-safe containers to store the stock.

Here’s my bag o’ scraps, after a long, hard month of hibernating in the freezer. I think they’re ready to serve some purpose again.

Fill a large pot with 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, carefully add in the frozen veggies. You don’t want to get your arm splashed with boiling water. Which is exactly what I did, of course.

Bring back to a boil. Add in 1 or 2 bay leaves and 1-2 tsp. salt.

Turn your heat down to low, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once your time’s up, use a slotted spoon to fish out the large pieces, and set them aside in a bowl to cool. You can compost those later.

Now you can get your strainer and another pot, and carefully pour your stock through the strainer into the pot. I put the pot and strainer in the sink to avoid spills.

Allow to cool completely, for 1-2 hours. Taste your broth and add more salt if needed.

Your broth will be stored in the freezer, so it’s a good idea to measure it before storing. That way you will know how many containers you need for recipes.

I had three 32oz plastic freezer containers, and I ended up with 9 and 3/4 cups of stock, so I put 3 cups each in two of them, and 3 3/4 cups in one.

Back in the freezer they go for some more hibernating, until you are ready to use!

Mother of ______!

What. the. hell?!

These were my thoughts when I pulled the following out of my cabinet the other night:

Yes, that is white wine vinegar. Yes, those are monstrous jellyfish aliens inside of the bottle. No, I don’t know how they got there.

OK, well now I do. After a little googling magic, I discovered that these beasts are actually called Mother of Vinegar. According to my friend Wikipedia, it can form in any store bought vinegar if there is any non-fermented sugar and/or alcohol in the bottle. “While not appetizing in appearance, mother of vinegar is completely harmless and the surrounding vinegar does not have to be discarded because of it.” Really, wikipedia? Not appetizing in appearance? You might want to change that to vomit-inducing in appearance, thanks.

Anyway, apparently this mother is totally natural, and I don’t need to worry about it. Still…. I might think twice the next time a recipe calls for white wine vinegar. Ugh.