Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vegan Stuffed Peppers

When I was a kid, I loved my mom's stuffed peppers. Fluffy rice, warm ground beef, all wrapped in a bell pepper (my favorite food) and topped with tomato sauce and cheese - WINNER. But as I get older and more aware, I feel a little differently about animal products, for bunches of reasons spanning the social, the political, and the economical. The one that wins in this recipe, however, is the flavorful.

1/2 cup brown rice (or grain of your choice)
1 cup lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 cups water + 1 T vegetable bullion OR 3 cups vegetable stock
4 green bell peppers
2 red bell peppers
1 small carrot, shredded (about 3/4 cup. You could do this with just about anything, and add as much as you want. I think that zucchini would be an excellent addition. Eggplant might not go amiss, either.)
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cumin
2 t onion powder

In a large pot, combine the rice, lentils, and cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, and cook uncovered approximately 20 minutes. When cooking time is up, kill the heat and cover the pot; let sit at least five minutes.

While the rice and lentils are cooking, prep the green and red peppers. Slice in half lengthwise, remove stems and seeds.

When prepping peppers, I use a melon baller to scrape the ribs out. The slightly sharp edges cuts more cleanly than a spoon, requiring less force, and the small shape fits inside the peppers better than a knife.

Set the green pepper halves aside. Put the red peppers cut side down on a foil-lined pan and broil at 425 for 10-15 minutes, or until skin is partially blackened and flesh is tender. Remove from oven and cool on pan. Set oven to bake at 350. Once the peppers have cooled, peel the skin off. Puree with cumin, oregano and onion powder.

Once the rice and lentils have sat for a few minutes, use a wooden spoon to mash the lentils slightly, until the mixture holds together somewhat. Add shredded veggies and red pepper mixture and stir to incorporate. Spoon into prepped green peppers. If you're making ahead, this is where you cover them with foil and stash them in the fridge. If you're not, this is where you cover them with foil and bake 15-20 minutes, or until peppers are soft and yummy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Caramel Corn

At 22 years old, I am the youngest of the "cousin" generation by about seven years. Buying Christmas presents for a sprawling group of adults with diverse interests and negligible certainty of being present at our big Christmas Eve Seven Fishes Feast is always a challenge. Lottery tickets are the usual answer but this year, we went... edible. Sure, my cousins have no chance of winning money with this gift, but with a bag full of this all-grown-up candy corn, who cares?

8 cups of popped plain (unbuttered) popcorn
4 cups pecans
2 cups sugar (brown or white - your call. I like one cup of each.)
1/2 cup corn syrup (or honey or agave if you're not fans of Big Corn.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or margerine
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 bag of red and green M&Ms

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Grease two large pans; cake pans work best. Spread popcorn and nuts in pans.

In a small pot, combine sugar, corn syrup and butter. Heat over medium until boiling; put a lid on it and let it boil for five minutes. Remove from heat and add baking soda and spices; mix quickly. The misture should be light and foamy. Pour over popcorn and nuts, stirring to coat.

Bake at 250 for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. While it's in the oven, cover a large area of your counter with wax paper or tin foil. Turn the finished caramel corn out onto the covered area and break it up into bite-sized chunks - be sure to give it a second before you go in there bare-handed, because hot sugar can seriously burn. Once it is completely cooled, mix in the red and green M&Ms. Package in pretty bags or airtight boxes.

Serves: 16
Nutritional Info: Really, really bad for you. That's why you only make it at Christmas and give most of it away.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why I Blog

Right before the end of school, one of my roommates called me obsessed with food, at all stages: not just eating, but growing and preparing it as well. Since then, I’ve been trying to put into words why I find food so interesting. Why am I obsessed, not just with blogging about cooking, but with where food comes from, where it goes, and how it gets there? The obvious part is what everyone shares: I need it to stay alive. But yesterday, I finally realized that it fascinates me because it’s an easily understandable way to model the production economy – it works just like any other production model. The difference is that with food, only a minuscule percentage of the population is engaged in just consuming. At some point, almost everyone has experience growing or preparing their own food. Not so with a laptop or a t-shirt or a tube of lip gloss.

What’s more, I see the food grow-make-eat cycle, and the rich interplays therein, as a way to model bigger problems in our society and to look for solutions in a way that is essential and engaging to everyone. As much as the appearance of abundance in suburban supermarkets gives the impression that the food model we’re using works, it isn’t, and there are problems at every step of the way.

  • Grow – Industrialized agriculture is a problem because it encourages the use of non-native plants, monoculture farming, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and crops dependent on petrochemical (oil-based) fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Organic is more expensive to the consumer, but industrialized agriculture is deeply expensive in terms of our planet’s health.
  • Make – Except for a few high-profile executive chef positions, the vast majority people who handle food between the field and your plate are not working desirable jobs, and as such, they tend to be socioeconomic minorities, paid a pittance for thankless and sometimes dangerous labor. The spectrum covers a lot of complicated problems, but the worst are in places the average consumer will never see, like harvesting vegetables or processing meat.
  • Eat – Another complicated problem, but for America, we spend the least on food – 10% of our income – of any industrialized nation, and we’re leading industrialized nations in a trend of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, gout, and other “diseases of civilization” that belie a food culture in shambles. We are what we eat, and we’re eating crap.

But the really interesting part is the greater implications of this model. The problems we face in the production, preparation and consumption of our food present a microcosm of the system of problems faced by America and the world at large in terms of our environment, socioeconomic inequalities, and overall health. I say “system of problems” because, in the words of great conservationist John Muir, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Those three big problem areas are deeply interrelated, and that’s why connecting them to the grow-make-eat food model works. Each step of the food model is richly interrelated to the other steps. You can’t fix one without needing to make changes to the others.

For example, let’s say we get rid of corn and soy subsidies, something I would love to see happen. The first effect is in growing – now it’s much less profitable to grow corn and soybeans, so drastically fewer people do it. Downstream in the “make” stage, there’s a shortage of corn and soy for snack food producers, so further downstream at the “eat” stage, snack foods become much more scarce and expensive, and people ease off eating them. That’s a good thing. But corn and soy are also used to feed livestock on CAFOs. What do CAFO owners and operators feed them instead? How does this change the health of the livestock? How does the change the supply of meat for processing? Are workers laid off of hand-to-mouth jobs? And how does this change the quality and availability of meat for consumers? And next year, how many farmers who switched to new crops will still be in business? Because of their previous dependence on big corporations like Monsanto for seed, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, the remaining small farmers of America are in large part on the brink of bankruptcy. One bad year could put them under. For every action we take to fix part of this broken system, there infinite repercussions downstream.

And that’s the key to why I’m fascinated by food. My boyfriend likes to call me a tweaker because I can never take a recipe for what it is. I have to change something about it to see if it makes things better or worse pretty much every time I make it. He calls it tweaking, but it doesn’t just apply to food. It’s part of my greater way of thinking, and when you look at the big picture you realize that I’m not a tweaker, I’m a fixer. Whenever I’m presented with a problem, no matter what I will start looking, evaluating and trying out solutions.

I look at the world, and I see a bunch of broken systems, infinite problems begging to be solved. I look at the grow-make-eat model and I see a smaller, more manageable version of those same broken systems, interrelated in the same way. It’s still a very complex system of problems, and I still don’t have the answers, but I keep working at it, trying to figure out a way to solve the system. I know that the solutions for the food model will make great strides towards solutions in the environmental-socioeconomic-health system of problems, and if those food model solutions will give us important clues for how to solve the entire system of problems. So I guess I love food because I’m a human, a fixer, and an optimist.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Simple Summer Slaw

I really love making things that challenge my idea of what I dish "should" be. I am also a big fan of using every part of the buffalo. Or chicken. Or vegetable. This slaw combined both of those. I made steamed broccoli for dinner a few days ago, I had these big leftover stalks after trimming the florets off. Leave it to my mom, and she'd probably toss them in a compost - fueling next year's vegetables is a noble pursuit, but I wanted to try something different. This afternoon, the weather is beautiful but hot, so something light, crisp and refreshing was in order. I'd say this summer slaw fits the bill.

2 broccoli stalks, about 5" long, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 small sweet apple, chopped into matchsticks (avoiding the core)
2 small carrots, grated or cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 t sugar (optional)
1 T whole grain mustard or dijon mustard

In a large bowl, toss the broccoli stalks, apples and carrots until well mixed. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, sugar and mustard until unform. Pour over the slaw mixture and toss until evenly coated. Let sit at least 15 minutes, so the flavors get friendly. I recommend serving this with a slice or two of a good sharp cheddar.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Tandoori Gyros

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I love ethnically confused cooking. If you're paying $30 a plate for it, go ahead and call it fusion, but if it's in my kitchen, it's ethnically confused. I have had very little Indian food in my life, because my dad is so incredibly averse to spicy food. This month's Food Network magazine had an easy recipe for chicken tandoori, and since I can control how spicy the food I make is, I was finally able to try it - with, of course, an ethnically confused spin on it.

PS - I'm so happy to finally be home, cooking in a real kitchen again!

Tandoori Gyros

Naan bread (store-bought, or, if you're feeling adventurous, make your own.)
12 oz. cooked chicken, sliced or shredded.
2 cups cauliflower, steamed
2 large Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 large sweet onion, sliced and sauteed until caramelized
6 oz plain Greek yogurt
1 small red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika

In a food processor, blend two tablespoons of the yogurt, the red onion, tomato paste, vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, corianter, cumin, and one teaspoon of paprika until it forms a smooth paste. In a large bowl, toss the chicken, cauliflower, tomato and onion in the yogurt sauce. Spread the mixture on a foil-lined pan and broil for ten to fifteen minutes, or until lightly charred. While the chicken is in the oven, mix the remaining yogurt and paprika together. To serve, spread the yogurt sauce on the naan and put the tandoori mixture on top. Fold the naan in half and enjoy.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


As the semester wraps up and life gets crazy, a young woman's thoughts turn to... the fridge. How it's packed with ingredients and in desperate need of cleaning and where on earth did all these eggs come from? Today's fridge-busting recipe is not quite a fritatta, not quite a quiche... I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the whatatta. Bursting with veggies and other happy-making ingredients, it would have been the perfect way to start my afternoon if the stupid university would turn on the air conditioning in the dorms.

You will need:
2 slices of stale whole wheat bread
6 eggs
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons olive oil (or butter)
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
2 slices chopped bacon (optional - if you leave it out, add a pinch of salt)
1 1/2 cups spinach, cut into strips
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1 medium tomato, sliced
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Shred the bread into small chunks and press to cover the bottom of a lightly greased brownie pan. Beat one egg with 2 tablespoons of milk and pour over the bread to soak.

Over medium heat, saute the onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter until softened; add bacon and mushrooms, and saute until caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mix cool.

In a large bowl, beat the five remaining eggs with the remaining 1/4 cup milk and the baking soda. Fold in the spinach and the cooled onion-mushroom-bacon-goodness mixture from the stove. Pour into the brownie pan over bread and egg mix, and top with sliced tomato and mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until the center is no longer runny. The whatatta will rise substantially as it bakes, but will fall once it cools. The cheese should be very well browned; if you want to slow the browning process, cover with foil during baking. Let cool slightly before serving.

Serves 4.
Calories per serving: 300
Carbs: 17 g
Fats: 18 g (mostly monounsaturated fats)
Protien: 19 g

Monday, April 26, 2010

Food, Inc on POV

I'm not a bad college student, just a modern one - I don't watch much TV. I watch a lot of laptop, but the TV I share with my roommates is turned on for two hours or less per week, and only for specific programs. I was upset when I found out I'd missed PBS's Earth Day showing of Food, Inc, a fascinating and enlightening look at where our food really comes from. But I was elated to find out that, until this Thursday, April 29, it's on

I cannot stress enough how important it is to know where your food comes from. The best cooks in the world can't make great food without good ingredients, and the foods we've come to accept as standard are simply sub-par; for example, Food, Inc. talks about green-picked, gas-ripened "notional tomatoes." Yes, they look like tomatoes and act like them in food, but even a child can tell the difference between the pink, watery flesh of a "notional tomato" and the succulent, ruby-colored flesh a real vine-ripened tomato that hasn't traveled halfway around the world. The bottom line: If you eat food, you need to see this movie.