Summer Squash & Black Bean Tacos

Hi, remember me? …. Me either. Yes, I’ve been gone forever! Forgive me! It’s been a crazy summer, one whole month of which was spent traveling to four different states, all over the country (Washington, Maine, Massachusetts & Tennessee, if you’re curious).

I’ve been meaning to update my blog  for weeks, but me being a classic 9 on the enneagram (if you’re not familiar with the enneagram, google it! It’s fascinating. I am a 9 down to a tee!), I have trouble getting things started back up once I haven’t done it for awhile. But thanks to the encouragement of many friends, I’m back in action.

For a quick lunch today, I rustled up some leftovers: black beans, summer squash, zucchini, salsa, and corn tortillas. It made for a delicious, easy, and filling lunch. I didn’t measure anything, so these are rough estimates. Change it up as you please.

Squash & Black Bean Tacos
1/2 a can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 – 1/2 cup salsa
1/2 small-medium summer squash, diced
1/2 small zucchini, diced
1 Tbsp plain greek yogurt (you can use sour cream if you don’t have yogurt)
1/2 medium white onion, diced
1-2 Tbsp fresh cilantro
Corn tortillas
Dash of cayenne pepper
Pinch of cumin
Dash of chili powder
1 Tbsp canola oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Sauté squash, zucchini, and onion with the oil. Add some salt & pepper, and your spices. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until onions are soft. Stir in the beans, salsa, and yogurt. Turn the stove off and keep the pan on the burner to stay warm.

Now grab another pan to heat the tortillas, and turn heat to med-high. Heat each corn tortilla on each side until soft. If you have a gas stovetop, you can actually just hold each tortilla over the flames for a few seconds so they get a little crispy. My friend grew up in Ecuador, and he tells me this is how they do it in South America… much more auténtico.

Fill each tortilla with a little bit of the squash & black bean mix. Top with cilantro and shredded cheese. Enjoy!

Portobello Caprese Salad

Ric and I have spent the last couple of weeks getting settled in our new apartment. We are now officially residents of the northwest suburbs, which is kind of weird. It’s so different from the city. Sidewalks are a rare sight, which makes walking anywhere difficult. And Ric was used to biking to work every day, which is now much more difficult. These roads were not made to accommodate bikers. But, there are some lovely aspects of the ‘burbs as well.

1. It’s quiet. Like, really quiet. In the city, we would hear ambulances/police/fire trucks about every 5 minutes. I think maybe I’ve heard one in the two weeks we’ve lived here. It’s awesome.

2. We live right next to a big forest preserve, which is beautiful. Yesterday we biked about 6 miles of it, and it was so nice. I often felt claustrophobic in the city… I just need some nature in my life. And now I have it, right across the street.

3. We have a balcony at our new place, which we both love. It’s so nice to sit out there, and read or eat and enjoy the sunshine. One of the things we both really want one day is a garden, and while that’s not quite possible here, we made our own little garden with a balcony planter.

Isn’t it pretty? These little flowers make me so happy every time I look at them. In addition to the two kinds of flowers you see, we also planted basil, rosemary, cilantro, mint, and oregano. Yay! Our little basil plant is thriving.

I love basil so much. I could use it in everything. One of my favorite summer recipes is caprese salad: tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of olive oil & balsamic.

Yesterday Ric and I went to the farmers market and stocked up on tons of fresh veggies and fruits. We had some tomatoes and portobello mushrooms, so I decided to make a caprese salad with a twist. I give you portobello caprese salad. You’re welcome.

Ingredients:
Portobello mushrooms (small-medium size, 1 for each person)
Tomato, sliced
Fresh mozzarella (I can’t stress the importance of fresh enough, it makes a world of difference)
Fresh basil
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 350°, then get your mushrooms cleaned. Run them under the faucet making sure to clean off any dirt.

Now cut off the stems, take a spoon and scrape out the gills. You can skip this step if you want, but I would recommend it. Sometimes there might be dirt hiding in the gills, and you don’t want your salad to be gritty.  This is a pretty quick and easy step.

Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on both sides of the mushrooms. Place them on a pan with aluminum foil and bake for 15-20 minutes. I pulled the sides of the foil up over the mushrooms to make a little tent so they didn’t get burnt.

Once your mushrooms are done, put a slice of tomato on each, a fat slice of mozzarella, a sprig of basil, and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and balsamic. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy this yummy summertime treat!

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!

Guilt-Free “Ice Cream”

Another delicious dessert post for you. But this time it’s healthy. Seriously.

No sugar. No dairy. This recipe really only requires one ingredient plus one or two others if you want to add some flavor. Are you ready?

Frozen banana. 

Yep.

By some crazy miracle, when you blend frozen banana in the food processor, it turns into the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Really! Discovering this recipe is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. OK, so maybe not the best, but it’s up there. Because I love ice cream. Love it, love it, love it. I hardly ever keep it in the house, though, because I would probably eat the entire container by myself. But this recipe is something I can feel good about eating, even though it tastes just like ice cream. Genius.

I am in the habit of keeping sliced bananas in the freezer for smoothies, protein shakes, and this recipe. You will probably want to do the same so you can make this “ice cream” whenever you want. The following recipe is purely a starting point … you can really put anything you want in there to flavor it however you like.

Banana “ice cream”
3-4 bananas, sliced and frozen (slice before freezing)
A spoonful of peanut butter
2-3 tsp. cocoa powder

For this recipe, you will definitely need a food processor. The blender is not gonna cut it. Unless you have a seriously powerful blender.

Put your bananas into the food processor, and blend.

At first, it will looks like this:

It will be kind of grainy. Keep going. You will probably have to stop blending once in awhile and push the banana down with a spatula.

Be patient with it. For awhile it seems like nothing is happening and the banana is just spinning around and around. Just wait. I promise, it will happen. After a while of spinning, the banana at the bottom will start to get very smooth, and then the rest will follow. It’s actually really cool to watch it happen.

Here’s what it will look like when it’s the right consistency:

See how smooth and creamy it is around the sides? But if you look in the middle, you can see there is a big chunk of frozen banana. This happens every time. This last stubborn chunk doesn’t seem to want to break down, and it just keeps spinning around. You will probably have to stop and push it down/break it up a little bit to speed up the process.

Once it is completely done, you can add your flavor.

Like I said, add whatever you want. I usually stick to peanut butter & chocolate because it’s my favorite combo with the banana. But you could add fresh fruit like raspberries or strawberries to make more of a sorbet; coconut; chocolate syrup instead of cocoa powder… whatever you want. Go crazy.

The result is a smooth and creamy soft-serve-like treat that could definitely pass for ice cream. Just without all the calories. If you want it less soft-servey and more ice-creamy, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.

Yum!

For the Love of Cupcakes

I have long had a love for cupcakes. I mean, how could you not? Delicious cake and frosting-y goodness all wrapped up in the perfect, individual size. Yum!

I don’t often post sweets on the blog. Not because I don’t love them (oh, trust me, I do), but because I find baking to be much more difficult than cooking. Everything has to be so precise. If your butter is too soft or too hard, forget about it. There is so much that could go wrong. The first time I tried to make cupcakes from scratch, I had to throw away the entire first batch. It was a complete and miserable failure.  My butter was still too hard and it didn’t combine with the batter correctly. Therefore, they did not bake correctly. I wish I had a picture to show you the horror of these crappy cupcakes.

Fortunately, since then, I’ve learned some tricks. OK, so maybe they’re not tricks. Maybe this is just common baking knowledge, but, if you are new to baking there are some things you should know. Your butter and your eggs should be at room temperature, which requires a few hours of sitting on the counter. If you did not plan ahead, don’t worry. Check out this great blog post at My Baking Addiction for tips on how to speed up the process.

So, what is the yummy cupcake pictured above, you might ask? Well, it actually started out as something completely different. I had planned to attempt this recipe from Annie’s Eats (key word being “attempt”). Looks incredible, right? Well, turns out, it’s not so easy to make. The cake part is easy. Done and done. But homemade caramel? A nightmare. If you can make successful caramel on your first try, you deserve an award. I think caramel is one of those things that you have to have a lot of practice at, and I also hear a candy thermometer comes in handy. I had neither practice nor thermometers on hand, so my attempts at caramel burnt. Twice. On each try, it actually never even got close to turning the golden-brown caramel color. I just had a clear, gooey substance for a long time, and then it burnt and got all chunky and crystallized. Luckily, the mess cleans up easily with hot water, since it only consists of sugar and water.

Caramel nightmare behind me, I decided to scrap this lovely caramel swiss meringue buttercream idea, and just do plain old buttercream frosting. Forging ahead — that’s what mediocre bakers like myself must do in times of trial. I tossed the caramel pot in the sink, and moved on to buttercream.

In the end, I wound up with a delicious cupcake. The cake part is from Annie’s original recipe. I got the buttercream frosting recipe here, and added a couple ingredients of my own.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes (makes about 32 cupcakes)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2¼ cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
2¼ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. brewed coffee*
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Buttercream Frosting
1 cup of salted butter (at room temp)
3 teaspoons of vanilla
4 cups of confectioners sugar
Cinnamon & Nutmeg (optional)**
Finely chopped dark chocolate for garnish

*If you don’t love the taste of coffee, don’t worry. Your cake won’t taste like coffee. It just adds a richer flavor.

**I did not measure the cinnamon and nutmeg… I just wanted to add some flavor, so I sprinkled some in, and sprinkled some more until I was satisfied with the taste.

Start with your cake first. Preheat the oven to 350°F, get out a couple cupcake pans, and put your cupcake liners in place. Using an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low until blended. Add the vegetable oil, buttermilk, coffee, eggs, and vanilla to the bowl and mix on low speed until everything is completely blended together.

Pour batter into cupcake liners so they are just a smidge over halfway full. Bake for about 18-20 minutes. You’ll know they are done if you lightly touch the middle of a cupcake and it bounces back. If it feel squishy and the batter hasn’t risen much, give it a couple more minutes.

While your cupcakes are baking, you can make your frosting. Once you’ve cleaned out your mixing bowl, add the butter. Mix on medium-low until the butter is all whipped up. Add confectioners sugar a little bit at at time. When the sugar is all mixed in, add cream and then vanilla. Then, you can sprinkle in some cinnamon and nutmeg.

When your cupcakes are cooled, frost away! I don’t have a frosting kit, so I use a ziploc bag. Just cut the tip of one bottom corner of the bag, put the frosting in, and get to frosting.

The frosting is so rich and sweet and delicious with the incredibly dark chocolate cake.

I will let you in on a little secret: the best way to eat a cupcake. When I was younger, I noticed my mom eating cupcakes this way, and I’ve followed her example ever since. Peel off the cupcake liner (duh), and split the cupcake in half by pulling the bottom part of the cupcake off. Take the part you just pulled off, and stick it on top of the frosting, making a cupcake sandwich.

Ta-da!

By sandwiching it, you get equal parts of frosting and cake in each bite. In my mind, there is no other way to eat a cupcake. Enjoy!

Black Bean, Tomato, and Feta Pasta Salad

Yeahhh… so, this is kind of a summer recipe.

Turns out, it’s not summer. But I wouldn’t know that judging by the weather the last couple of weeks. Last week was beautiful — in the 80s and sunny almost every day. Only now has the temperature gone back to normal spring temperatures. Boo. I was getting used to the no coat thing.

Well, last week being what it was, I was feeling a little inspired to make some summery-feeling recipes. We didn’t get to this one ’til tonight, when, alas, the hot weather is long gone. But it still tasted delish. I got this recipe from a friend a few years ago, and it has proven to be a summertime favorite. The beans and tomato combined with the spices, citrus, and heat of the tabasco sauce give this salad a kick.

This is such a simple recipe. The only annoying part is seeding and dicing all the tomatoes. But once you get through that, there’s really not much prep work at all.

Black Bean, Tomato, and Feta Pasta Salad
1/3 cup olive oil
2-4 large garlic cloves, minced (the more, the merrier… or garlicky-er)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed well
2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced (I prefer roma tomatoes)
Grated zest of 2 limes (Or a splash of lemon or lime juice)
2-3 teaspoons tabasco sauce
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
——————————
16 oz. bowtie or wagon wheel pasta
8 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all of the ingredients above the dotted line in a large bowl and set aside to warm to room temperature.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and combine with other ingredients in the bowl. Add cilantro and feta cheese, mixing well so everything is evenly coated.

I suggest pairing this with a margarita, or some other fun, summery drink. You can pretend it’s summer, while the springtime weather catches up with you. Slowly but surely. Hopefully we’ll get some more warm weather again soon. Enjoy!

Mashed Potatoes with a Twist

There’s almost no better comfort food than mashed potatoes (except maybe gnocchi mac ‘n cheese!). Creamy, buttery, delicious, YUM.

Seriously, who doesn’t love mashed potatoes?

Horrifying flashback to my childhood — I used to make and eat instant mashed potatoes all the time. Sure, it was easier, but it definitely doesn’t taste as good as the real deal. Plus, after the potatoes have been through so much processing, they lose some of their nutritional value. Potatoes have nutritional value, right?

OK, so maybe potatoes aren’t that great for you, but I still love ’em. I assembled this easy little recipe one night with random ingredients found in my fridge.

Exhibit A: Random ingredients that really need to be used up.

Exhibit B: my growling stomach. Sorry, don’t have a picture of that.

Sadly, I was without milk, so I thought I would just use a little bit of veggie broth for a little flavor and that creamy texture. I figured the broth mixed with some cream cheese would make a good enough consistency.

I only had two potatoes on hand, but you can make this with as many taters as you wish. I apologize for the lack of precise measurements. Mashed potatoes is just one of those things where you add a little bit of this, taste, and add a little bit of that. Go with your gut. And your growling stomach.

Rosemary, Leek, and Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes (2 servings)
2 large potatoes, scrubbed clean (and peeled, if you prefer) and cut into 1 inch pieces
1-2 Tbsp. cream cheese
1-2 Tbsp. veggie broth
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance butter substitute. (Feel free to use real butter.)
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 leek, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop up your leeks and rosemary. Be sure to put the leeks in a colander and rinse thoroughly after chopping — dirt could be stuck between the layers.

Dice up your potatoes and stick them in a saucepan. Add cold water until potatoes are completely covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15-20 minutes or until done. Done = you can easily stick a fork through the potatoes.

While your potatoes are cooking, get a sauté pan and add a little bit of olive oil, or whatever oil you’ve got laying around. Turn heat to medium and add leeks and rosemary. Sauté, stirring frequently, until leeks are soft (just a few minutes). Remove from heat.

When your potatoes are done, drain the water from your pan and transfer potatoes to a large mixing bowl. Add 1 Tbsp. each of the broth, cream cheese, and butter, and mix with a hand mixer or mash with a potato masher — whatever floats your boat. I like to use the mixer because I’m lazy like that. Possibly the reason why Michelle Obama-like arms are always out of my reach. Sorry — tangent. Seriously, though, I would kill for those arms!

Anyway, back to the potatoes.

Once you’ve mixed everything, taste to see if it is creamy enough and flavorful enough. Feel free to add more of the cream cheese, broth, or butter — whatever it needs. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper.

Once you are satisfied with the taste and consistency, add your leeks and rosemary, and mix in with a fork.

Serve piping hot, and enjoy this satisfying dose of comfort food.