Lentil and Hatch Chili Pepper Taco Filling

Dear Caitlin,

Admittedly, lentils are not the stuff fancy food blogs are made of.  They aren’t pretty.  Ungarnished, they’re pretty bland.  They’re cheap.  In short, they lack sex appeal.

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But real talk.  We eat a lot of lentils.  So, blog world, step back, because I am bringing you a lentil recipe.  And I didn’t even used red lentils (rentils, if you will).  No, I used the really ugly brown ones.  We’re all going to take a deep breath and be ok with it, though, because this recipe is so-worth-it.

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This recipe is sort of a summer-meets-fall kind of deal.  We’re still enjoying hatch chili peppers, but we’ve acknowledged that, notwithstanding current temperatures, fall is en route and it’s time to eat some squash.*

(*But it’s not, and I emphasize that it never will be, time to get a pumpkin spice manicure.)

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This squash gets roasted into all kinds of delicious.

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This is a very pretty recipe….

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… until you add the lentils.

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I thought for some reason that adding salsa would make it prettier.  I’ll have another think next time.

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All insults aside, I’ve made this four times so far this season.  It’s crazy good, crazy healthy, and crazy inexpensive.*  Dinner winner.

(*You’ll notice that when I meant it pejoratively, I said “cheap,” but when I meant it positively, I said “inexpensive.”  These are the persuasive writing skills I learned during seven years of very expensive higher education.)

Recipe
Ingredients
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 White Onion, Diced
1 Serrano Pepper, Seeded and Diced
2 Hatch Chili Peppers, Seeded and Diced
1 Red Pepper, Seeded and Diced
1 Cup Shredded Carrots
2 Medium Acorn Squash, Diced (About 6-8 Cups Squash)
1 Cup Dried Lentils
2-3 Tablespoons Taco Seasoning (Great Taco Seasoning recipes here and here.)
Cilantro, to Garnish (optional)

(1)  Dice, seed, and shred all vegetables.

(2)  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

(3) Place acorn squash on roasting pan and cook for approximately 30 minutes, until squash is easily pierced with a fork and begins to develop deep brown edges.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Once it is cool to touch, peel the squash flesh from the skin and set flesh aside.

(4)  Bring approximately 3 cups of water to a boil.  Add dried lentils and reduce to simmer.  Cook for about twenty minutes, or until lentils are soft.  Set aside.

(5)  Cook onion and olive oil on pan over medium heat for approximately 3-4 minutes.

(6)  Add serrano pepper and hatch chili peppers to onion.  Cook another 5 minutes, and then add red bell pepper and carrots.  Cook approximately five minutes more.

(7)While the peppers, onion, and carrot are cooking, take about half of the lentils and pulverize in a food processor.

(8)  Add whole lentils, mashed lentils, and squash to onion-pepper-carrot mixture.  Cook another 5 to 10 minutes, thoroughly combining all ingredients.

(9) Add taco seasoning and salt to taste.

(10) Serve over salad, in tacos, and definitely with cilantro.

Shark Cake

Dear Caitlin,

Sometimes when I get home at the end of the day, I’ve had enough of words.  While I think that I have the greatest job that anyone could ever have, sometimes after a solid ten hours of writing, it’s tough to come home and explain how to make a shark cake.

So, today, here are the words:

– Two layers of cake, one whole and one quartered

– Frosting:  Blue, Gray, White, Red, Black

– Yogurt Raisins

– Inspired by Chirky

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Done.

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Avocado Lime Popsicles

Kaki, I just swooned for this popsicle over our Fourth of July weekend trip.  The creaminess!  (I had flashbacks to eating frozen Go-Gurts as a kid!)  The sweet and sour combo!  Oh, I just adored these, and have been rationing the leftovers in my freezer ever since.

And so, to wrap up our very own Popsicle Week, I present to you my personal favorite, the Avocado Lime Popsicle.  Enjoy!

Avocado Lime Popsicles

adapted from Paletas by Fany Gerson (I found the recipe on Epicurious)

makes 5 Zipzicles

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 small, ripe avocados
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from 2-3 limes)

In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar.  Cook over medium-high heat until the mixture just boils, stirring until the sugar is dissolved (no need to stir after that point).  Once the mixture is just boiling remove from the heat and cool to room temperature (or can be chilled in the fridge overnight).

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Slice the avocados in half lengthwise, and remove the pit.  Scoop the avocado flesh into a food processor.  Add the simple syrup (the water-sugar mixture from the prior step) and salt to the processor, and process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed.  Add the lime juice and process the mixture again until the lime juice is fully incorporated and the mixture is velvety smooth*.

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Pour the mixture into your popsicle mold of choice, or into about 5 zipzicle baggies.  Place in the freezer until solid, about 8 hours or overnight.

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I still have about 30 Zipzicle baggies in my drawer for later use, Kaki.  I bet I’ll make another batch of these pops before the summer is over.  Plus there are a few recipes that didn’t make the cut for our July 4th trip: this Blackberry Pinot Noir Pop, and I want to try one that uses horchata as a base.  If you have further flavor suggestions, lay ’em on me, my friend!

Have a lovely weekend, Kaki!  Enjoy a popsicle or two, I say.

–Caitlin

*I know, velvety here is superfluous, but I can’t help myself, it’s just intoxicating how silky this stuff is right out of the food processor!  Hmm, silky and velvety… how did fabric terms come to be used this way in describing food?  That’s an Alton question, I suppose.

Tofu Stir Fry with Chili Sauce

Dear Caitlin:

Tofu does get a bad rap.  I’m also surprised by how often people think that it’s my sole source of protein as a vegetarian.  True fact:  I eat tofu like maybe five times a year.  I would venture to say that the most-consumed vegetarian food is, in fact, chick peas.  I find myself dumping cans of those gems in all sorts of meals where they don’t belong.

Having said that, the night you posted NO FEAR TOFU (as I’ve come to think of it), we ate tofu.  We must be on the same wavelength.

A few weeks ago, I found myself stuck inside an airport for a meal.  In dire circumstances, vegetarian airport food is a milkshake and fries.*  However, this happened to be a pretty decent sized airport, and there was a fast food place that had a tofu stir fry, which I took a chance on.

(* And by dire, I of course mean, “justification to eat a milkshake and fries for dinner?! SCORE!”  Top choice is a mint shake with curly fries, no judgment.)

It was crazy good.  The tofu was, of course, bland, but it was soaked in this astonishingly tasty sauce.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it the next day.  A little googling and a few adjustments later, I came up with this.

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It’s a great meal to throw together at the end of a workday.  Since the sauce can be made ahead, it comes together quickly.  It’s also a great clean-out-the-fridge recipe, because you can sub the vegetables for pretty much anything that’s going to mold in the foreseeable future.

Check out the veggie goodness I was able to stuff into this:

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I know.  There were leftovers for days.  Unfortunately, this led to my co-workers believing that, yes, finally, I was admitting that all vegetarians eat is tofu.  Totally worth it.

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Recipe
Sauce Ingredients
Modified from Sweet Chili Thai Sauce on AllRecipes.
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Rice Vinegar
1/2 Cup Agave Syrup (I’m sure you can sub sugar for this.  The original recipe calls for 1 cup, which I think would be way too much, but live and let live)
2 teaspoons Ginger, Grated
1 teaspoon Garlic, Minced
1 teaspoon Ground Red Pepper
2 teaspoons Tomato Paste
1/2 Tablespoon Corn Starch (Add more to thicken to taste)

Tofu Ingredients
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Pound Extra-Firm Tofu, Drained
1 Pound Frozen Broccoli, Thawed
2 Cups Chopped Cabbage
8 ounces Baby Carrots
1 Cup Snap Peas

 

(1) Bring water and vinegar to a boil in a large sauce pan.

(2) Once water and vinegar boil, add agave, ginger, garlic, red pepper, and tomato paste.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about five minutes.

(3) Combine corn starch with small amount of cold water.  Whisk to dissolve.  This will prevent clumping.

(4) Remove saucepan from heat and add corn starch.  Whisk thoroughly.  The sauce can be set aside and refrigerated until needed.  I’ve left it for a full 24 hours with good results.  Give it a good whisk when you’re ready to use it again.

(5) In a large frying pan, bring oil to high heat.  Add tofu and pan fry for about 3-4 minutes.

(6) Reduce heat to medium and add vegetables.  Cook to desired level of crunch.  I prefer my veggies on the raw side, which takes about 8 minutes.

(7) When vegetables are about two minutes from being done, add sauce.  Mix thoroughly.

(8) Serve over rice.  In the event all your bowls are dirty, use coffee mugs.  (I know.  Worst food blogger.  Ever.)

No Fear Tofu

Kaki, this isn’t news to you, but tofu, man, tofu gets a bad rap.  It’s the butt of every freakin’ vegetarian joke.  “Ha, she’s vegan?  Careful, all she’ll serve you is tofu!”  Ugh.  It’s an attitude that seriously irritates me.

There are so many great ways to use tofu!  I’m on a hardcore tofu kick at the moment, trying recipe after recipe.  Pan fried and blended and baked, it just has so much potential.  And, my favorite, it’s pretty freakin’ cheap.

I think the main problem people face with tofu is getting over the mental hurdle of “this is a fake meat”.  Nope.  Nope, it isn’t.  It’s its own thing entirely.  Adding protein to a meal is the only thing they really have in common.

Still, I get it.  With its reputation it can be an intimidating ingredient at first.  How do you cook it?  Do you have to press it?  Do you have to marinade it?  Do you need silken or soft or firm or extra firm?  I’m by no means an expert, but here are some guides, some tried-and-true recipes, and some recipes I’m dying to try.

 

Some Guides

The Kitchn’s What is Tofu, Exactly?
Short answer?  It’s soybeans.  Long answer?  Read their article!

The Kitchn’s Guide to Tofu Varieties
Solving “silken vs. soft” and “firm vs. extra firm” once and for all.

Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode on Tofu
I heart Alton.  So much.  This is twenty minutes of your life you didn’t know you needed to experience.

 

Recipes I Love

Mooless Chocolate Pie
You guys, you can make healthy chocolate pie with this stuff!  If that’s not enough to convert someone, I’m out of ideas.

Baked Tofu with Red Onions and Dill
This is my other go-to, “Oh you think you don’t like tofu huh well try this!” recipe.  Served over brown rice it is a great quick dinner.  The combination of the olive oil, mustard, red onion, and dill… it is perfection.

Scrambled Tofu
This, this right here is the breakfast of champions.  I’ve made this three times in the past month.  Cannot get enough!

 

Recipes I Want to Try

Tofu Chickpea Stir-Fry with Tahini Sauce with Marinated and Baked Tofu
I was all set to make this tonight.  Until I got home and realized I didn’t have any chickpeas, and actually no beans at all except black beans, which for whatever reason in my brain just would. not. do.  Instead, I’ve got the baked tofu and the sauce to go into a salad for lunch tomorrow.  Will report back.

Crispy Tofu Bites*
I want these to be amazing.  I want them to look just like those pictures.  And frankly, I want the breading to freakin’ work.  I have terrible luck with things that are breaded.  Someday I will conquer that particular kitchen foe.

Tofu in a Lemon, Soy, White Wine, and Butter Sauce
Doesn’t the name pretty much say it all?  Also, it’s from the same chef that created the killer dill-baked tofu above.  So, should be pretty great.

Tofu Bacon
I get it, people love bacon.  Heck, I love bacon!  But a restaurant in town makes the most amazing faux-BLT, and I must replicate it.  Must.  This recipe from my friend Katrina seems like a good place to start:

Extra firm tofu sliced really thin.  I didn’t drain it, but it might be a bit better if you have time.  Heat some canola oil in a skillet on medium high.  Then add the tofu.  Brown on each side (about 7 min for me).  Toward the end of cooking, add a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp liquid smoke, and some salt and pepper.

Tofu Potstickers
I got it into my head recently that I want to make homemade dumplings.  Not that we needed further proof that I’m a crazy person in the kitchen.  But now, to use The Kitchn’s recipe, or Smitten Kitchen’s take on Alton’s?**

 

Happy tofu-enjoying, Kaki!
–Caitlin

 

*I am suddenly reminded of those amazing spinach “nuggets” you got in college all the time.  Those were the *perfect* snack, are they still made?  I’ve got to check the frozen aisle next time I’m at the store.

**This is one of the most #firstworldproblems things I’ve said in a while.  That, and when I complained to you over email about how I accidentally left a bottle of unopened wine at a BYOB restaurant at the end of a not-so-great day this week.  Thanks for listening to that, by the way.

Oven Caramelized Onions

Kaki, I had such a lovely weekend last weekend!  I went up to Dallas to see my brother graduate from Guildhall.  Masters degree time, das’right, go Nate!

When we got back from Dallas we dropped my Grandma off at her house and as we were leaving she handed me a grocery bag.  “I can’t use these onions before I leave for New York.  Will you use them?”  Yes, Grandma.  Yes I will.

Caramelized onion time!!!

After a ton of searching, I decided to use this recipe as my guide.  It was based on America’s Test Kitchen, so it must be good.

First, you slice up a ton of onions.  America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe is adamant that you slice them “pole-to-pole” to get sort of tapered wedges, instead of slicing sideways into exact half circles.  They said they hold their shape better that way.  Good to know.

Then sliced onions, butter and salt go into a dutch oven (or other oven-proof pot).

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Cover the pot and bake in a 400 degree oven for an hour.  Then, it should look something like this:

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After a good stir, return the pot to the oven with the lid only 2/3’s of the way on, to let some moisture escape.  Can’t get caramelized if they’re soggy!  Let them bake like that for an hour-and-a-half, taking the pot out to stir a couple of times for good measure.

When time is up, remove the pot from the oven, and transfer the onions to a cutting board.

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Let cool slightly, then chop into 1/2-inch pieces.

While they’re cooling, you can combine your final flavoring ingredients:  red wine (I actually used the last of a bottle of ruby port), water, sugar, red wine vinegar, and some dried thyme.

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Once the onions are chopped up, return them to the pot.  Place the pot on the stove over medium heat.  Add the wine-vinegar-sugar-y goodness and give it all a good stir, scraping any browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pot.  Let this simmer for 10 minutes or so, until it has reduced enough that you can drag a spoon through the onions, and in the time it takes to take a picture, the liquid doesn’t cover the trail.

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Salt to taste, let cool and refrigerate, and you’re good to go!

Oven Caramelized Onions

adapted from The Discountess of Washington, as adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

(makes about 1.5 cups)

Ingredients

  • 4 or 5 yellow onions, sliced into strips pole-to-pole (that is, root-end to sprout-end)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup ruby port or red wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400*F.

Coat a large dutch oven with non-stick spray (I like canola oil spray).  Add the sliced onions, butter, and salt.  Cover and bake for one hour.

Remove the pot from the oven, stir, and return to the oven with the lid vented.  Bake for 1.5 hours, stirring twice during that time.

Transfer onions to cutting board and let cool slightly.  When just cool enough to handle, chop the onions into half-inch pieces.

Return the onions to the dutch oven.  Place the pot on the stove over medium heat.  Add the port (or red wine), water, red wine vinegar, sugar, and dried thyme.  Stir it all together, using the wine mixture to deglaze the pot.  Gently scrap the browned bits from the bottom and side of the pot.

Let this mixture simmer for 10 minutes, or until liquid has reduced to desired consistency.  Use immediately or cool and refrigerate for future use.  Can also be frozen for longer storage.

 

I’ve got a whole list of uses for caramelized onions that I’ll post soon.  🙂  Until then!

–Caitlin