Veggie hacks: 3-bean chili

One day last week, while attempting an aerobic walk during the arctic blast, my friend Lara and I were discussing what to make for dinner, and she mentioned vegetarian chili. This used to be one of my staples, especially when I wasn’t eating meat, but I have not made it forever. So I decided to make one that night. Please note: I wasn’t thinking about this blog when I was cooking, so there are neither pictures nor a precise list of ingredients. This barely counts as a recipe, consider it more of add-on that you can use when developing your own chili with your favorite ingredients or a trusted recipe.

Or, since chili is pretty fool-proof you can just take me at my word.

Really, the only reason I am posting about this at all is that I randomly tried something new that ended up coming out great and I had to share. I chopped the uncooked carrots and portobello mushrooms super fine in the food processor, until they were almost the size and texture of big breadcrumbs. Then I added the mixture to the chili when I put in the tomatoes and broth. The result was that the sauce took on the texture of meat chili, and it added the extra veggies and flavor without more chunks.

Here’s sort of what I did:

Ingredients

A few tbsp EVOO
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
a few garlic cloves, chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled
6-7 baby portobello mushrooms
*Not positive on the quantities of carrots and mushrooms, I would say I had about 1.5 cups of the ground mixture in the end
1 large jalepeño, diced
*spice mixture (more on this below)
1 can each: Red kidney beans, black beans and garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
~2-3 cups veggie broth (I actually used chicken but can go full veggie here)

  1. Sauté the onion, peppers and garlic in olive oil for 10-15 minutes until onions are golden
  2. Add in chopped chili pepper and your spice mixture. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. I didn’t have chili powder in the house (dumb because I made some for Christmas as gifts and didn’t keep any for myself!) so I mixed together paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne and turmeric until it tasted good.
  3. Chop carrots and mushrooms in food processor
  4. Stir everything else into the pot: beans, tomatoes, carrot/mushroom mixture and broth as needed (just enough so it’s not too thick)
  5. Boil and then simmer, uncovered, on medium low for an hour.

I’d love to hear how this turns out if you try it, so please share below!

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6 car camping “pantry” must-haves

You don’t need much to cook tasty meals on the road. However, car camping provides a little more space than other types of camping, so you can get away with stashing some treats. Here are a few things I keep the back seat or a cooler to give those fireside meals an extra boost.

toasted-tortilla-with-black-beans-and-tomato-camp-stove

  1. Jarred jalepeño slices and/or hot sauce. These are first on the list because you can use them in almost every camp meal, morning, noon or night. If you like a bit of a kick, add hot sauce or pepper slices to eggs, wraps, grains, veggies, sandwiches, etc. They will keep in the cooler for probably way longer than you need them too, and you can always bring leftovers home or gift them to fellow campers.
  2. Salt, pepper and olive oil. Spices are non-perishable, easy to store, and go a long way in flavoring dishes. If you are working with the same basic ingredients for a few days in a row, you will be surprised how exotic even just salt and pepper will taste. You can pick up a cheap non-breakable salt and pepper set at the grocery store, or pack spices from home in plastic straws that are bent and taped shut at the end. It is best to store everything so that you can pour directly on food and don’t have to use your fingers, since they will likely be dirty. Olive oil is an easy cooking medium/fat because it adds flavor, does not need to stay in the cooler, and can be used to cook almost everything. Try to find a plastic bottle since glass can break and is not allowed at some campsites.
  3. Tortillas. You can instantly turn a pile of left over ingredients into a dish-free breakfast, lunch or dinner with any kind of wrap. Plus, most of them do not require refrigeration. You can even toast them in an hot, non-greased skillet on the camp stove or over a fire for 1-2 minutes.
  4. A block of cheese. Need I explain?
  5. Chocolate. Chocolate is a lifesaver for a few reasons. Most importantly, depending on how long you are camping, you will likely become sick of all of your food and will just want a treat. Chocolate, in any form, will back you up in those moments. If it’s hot out or your food is being stored in the car all day, keep it in the cooler. Chocolate is also a great trail snack that provides some sugar to keep you going. Snickers are my favorite because they provide salt and fat in addition to calories, which is helpful if you are doing something particularly strenuous and sweating a lot.
  6. PB & J. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple on all my hikes or long driving days. They are filling, substantive, easy to make and carry, and delicious. They can also sub in as breakfast or dinner in a pinch.

    peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwhich-for-hiking
    personalized pb&j’s

Poaching eggs in the Black Hills

May I first say, sorry for the delay in posting! I intended to post from the road, but some places had no service or electricity and all places took my head so far from the computer that I kept not writing. However, I took pictures of everything we ate along the way so I could catch up once back on the grid. Here we go.

Our first night of camping was in Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The prairie landscape here is described as beautiful and unforgiving, which I can now say is about accurate. We set up our tents and prepared for a silent and powerful sunset.

camping-chairs-and-tent-badlands-sunset

In the morning, we set our for an 8 mile hike across a harsh rock crust trail dotted with sunflowers and grasses.

bandlands-hike-power-breakfast

However, we did not depart without a tasty power breakfast! Since we were still getting a feel for how to keep the camp stove lit in the prairie winds, first morning simplicity was important. Poached eggs are great to make on a camp stove because all you have to do is boil water, and there is minimal cleanup afterwards. Plus, they are soooo good.

Ingredients:
*makes one serving

2 raw eggs
1/2 ripe avocado
1/2 fresh orange
salt and pepper to taste
a dab or two of hot sauce if you wish

poached-eggs-with-avocado-and-orange

Bring a few inches of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Crack both eggs into a cup. Once the water is boiled, spin the water to create a whirlpool in the middle of the pot. Then, carefully pour the eggs into the center. Cook for three minutes at a slow boil, and then remove the eggs from the water with a spoon.

Serve with avocado slices and fresh fruit!

Junk in the trunk

When I was little, the word “adventure” was used to sugar coat traumatic family vacation experiences. If we got pickpocketed on the metro in Rome, missed our flight to the Cayman Islands because we did not have our birth certificates on hand, or if I passed out on a mountain top gondola ride in Jackson Hole and peed my pants, for example, we were simply “on an adventure.” Between the ages of five and fifteen, adventures for my brother and me involved a lot of crying and temper tantrums. (These vacations were also amazing and life-changing, but when something fabulous happened we were just “on vacation.”

What once was a dirty word, however, has been restored, especially as I reflect on my childhood experiences and realize how wonderful my parents made even ridiculous circumstances. I like to think that their generally nonchalant attitude about proper documentation and the like made me who I am today.

Today I excitedly embark on a new adventure, my first one in a while. Starting right about now, my best friend and I are driving clear across the country. Not only that, but we are training along the way for a 10k in California at the end of the trip. I am telling you this because this will be my first vacation since I joined the blogging world. Therefor, I am taking the opportunity to challenge us to a three week, cross country, car camping, 10k training, mostly clean eating but also mind-expanding culinary extravaganza. I’m sure we’ll come up with something worth sharing in that time.

Stay tuned!

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A Berry Nice Surprise

In a moment of great ambition, I volunteered to make pies for my family’s Easter celebration. Baking does not come naturally to me, so I felt a lot of pressure to get these pies right, since there was going to be a crowd of about 20 people. I decided on one strawberry rhubarb and one apple pie. I also decided to buy pre-made crust, and that I was not going to post about this adventure. However, a few things happened and that all changed. First, I found out there is no rhubarb to be found anywhere this time of year. So, with the strawberries already in my cart I decided to try a mixed berry pie. Second, the pies came out great! So here we are 🙂

mixed-berry-fruit-pie-homemade

Mixed Berry Pie
adapted from Epicurious

2 store bought pie crusts (I used the Whole Food’s brand frozen ones, made from only a few whole ingredients)
1-16oz container of strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg yolk (for glaze)

Preheat over to 400 degrees F. Combine all ingredients except egg yolk in a bowl, and stir until fruit is nice and coated. Line a pie dish with one crust, and fill with fruit mixture. It should be piled nice and high, since the filling will cook down quite a bit. Carefully cover pie with the second crust. Seal by crimping the edges together with a fork nice and tightly. Cut a few slits in the top for vents.

To make the glaze, beat one egg yolk, 1 tsp of water and 1/4 tsp white sugar together. Brush over the top crust.

Bake for 20 minutes at 400F, then reduce temperature to 350F and bake for an additional hour to 1 hour and 25 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from over and cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

How to Make a Window Herb Garden From Reclaimed Wood

I am finally ready to admit that life can get in the way of blogging. Sometimes I let it, but not today.

We have a little catching up to do. For my birthday earlier this month, my boyfriend built me a window herb garden out of a hundred year old piece of cedar and some mason jars. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Once it was finished we both just sat and stared at it for a while. I try to face it at all times when I am in the living room. I’m just drawn to it in every way.

Needless to say, my cooking has benefited from this enchanting home improvement as well. Instead of battling the winter alone, I’m heading in with something fresh by my side, and I could not be happier.

Top to bottom: oregano, basil, flat-leaf parsley, thyme

From start to finish it only took us about half an hour to build, and the materials did not cost much over $50. I know because $50 is our birthday gift cap. The whole idea of the limit in the first place was to spur a little creativity. Total win.

Here are the instructions for the one we made. It’s pretty user friendly, so you can adjust based on whatever materials you have available.

Materials:
piece of hardwood for a base (piece shown is 3″ thick cedar)
4 widemouth mason jars
4 four inch diameter metal hose clamps
4 one inch sheet rock screws
screw gun
decorative planting stones or small rocks
herb seeds or small seedlings
extra potting soil
khaki colored spray paint, satin finish

Step 1
In a well-ventilated area, spray paint hose clamps and let them dry fully.

Step 2
Mount hose clamps to your base using screws and a screw gun (we did not pre-drill the holes.) Place clamps them where you want the center of each jar to sit. These ones are at an angle so our plants face towards the sun. Leave screws loose enough so that jars can be rotated to upright for watering.
hose-clamp-mounted-to-wooden-herb-garden

hose-clamps-mounted-to-window-herb-gardenStep 3
Line each jar with an inch or two of stone. This will keep the plant from getting waterlogged since there is no drainage hole in the bottom of your container. Then add a thin layer of potting soil.

Step 4
Remove seedlings from their containers and gently break apart the root balls a little bit with your fingers. Place each plant in a jar. The base of the plant should rest just below the mouth of the jar. Add more soil on top of the rocks if necessary. Once placed in the jar, fill in around the root ball of the plant with extra potting soil, using your fingers to push soil it into any gaps. Make sure the soil isn’t too compacted.

basil-in-mason-jar-window-herb-gardenStep 5
Slide jars into the hose clamps and then tighten clamps.

basil-mason-jar-window-herb-garden

Note: Wall mounting materials will vary based on the type of walls you have and how thick your base is. We screwed the base to the wall before mounted the jars, however this can be done in reverse as well.

Conclusion of the Freezer Challenge

This day has been marked on my calendar for weeks. Today is the day that I conclude the Freezer Challenge by reporting on my results. Yet, for the first time since starting this blog, I am not excited to write or post.

For most of the month I was doing good, I mean really good. At no point was my freezer wasn’t empty, but I’m pretty sure about 75% of its contents were replaced with fresh things. As a reminder, here is what I set out to use up:

a-diagram-of-my-freezer

freezer door diagram

When I was on a roll, here’s what was going down in my kitchen:

  1. Ezekiel Bread– defrosted for mid-morning snacks of PB & banana or fruit spread at work
  2. Homemade ravioli– brought back to life by sautéing with garlic and olive oil, made a few lunch portions
  3. Naan– quick and easy pizza base, topped with sliced tomatoes and whatever other veggies were in the house
  4. Turkey sausages– simmered in tomato sauce with veggies and served over spaghetti squash
  5. Pizza dough– topped with veggies and freezer tomato sauce, grilled on barbeque
  6. Black bean soup– lunch for work
  7. Chicken chili– lunch for work
  8. Cod fillets– I’m allergic to fish and didn’t eat these, but they disappeared none the less
  9. Edamame– steamed and enjoyed with a pinch of sea salt
  10. Blueberries– mixed with plain greek yogurt
  11. Venison steaks– used for Slow Cooker Pulled Venison

Everything else fell victim to Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy when I lost power for four days. I do not mean to complain. Most people I know had harder time lost much more than I did. It is just that when the power came back on, and I had to toss almost everything in the fridge and freezer, it was so very sad. We tried to eat as possible before the storm and put a bunch of things into a cooler, but I ended up throwing out a full (and very heavy) garbage bag of food.

Overall, a few important things came out of this challenge. I trained myself to open the freezer and survey the stockpile before running to the store to buy more things. This saved time and money (very precious resources for me these days), and also forced me to get creative and create meals around ingredients by combining them in new ways. You will see a few more of these recipes here in the near future. For now, I need to go figure out what is for dinner tonight.

Introducing…The Freezer Challenge

Here is a trap I commonly fall into: I am at an exciting grocery store or farmer’s market and decide to stock up on things I can’t get (at least not at a reasonable price) at our regular Stop & Shop. Before long, bright, beautiful grass-fed meat, floury pizza dough, crisp local veggies, and anything homemade are spilling over the top of my basket, which is now breaking off my arm. I figure I’ll cook as much of it as possible this week and freeze the rest.

For some reason, I always feel a need to stockpile, like I have to make this particular trip to the store really count. When I get home, all the extras go into my neatly sorted, full of good intentions freezer. As soon as the door is shut, they are forgotten and abandoned.

Simultaneously, my boyfriend (with whom I share my freezer) is out in a forest or a marsh or a cornfield trying his best to hit the daily limit on whatever animal is in season. Any meat he brings home is cleaned, butchered, vacuumed sealed and then put you-know-where.

a-diagram-of-my-freezer
My freezer, today

We use almost everything eventually, but often things have long past the point of being interesting, appetizing or tasty. Enter the Freezer Challenge. I am on a quest to use up everything in my freezer, one recipe at a time. Then, I can start from scratch and learn how to use this space more efficiently. A few times this week I drove to the grocery store on my way home from work, and then turned around and left without going inside. There are dozens of frozen meals already at home, and figuring them out will force me to be a little bit creative.

freezer door diagram
Freezer door, today

So, it starts today. This post is proof. With hunting season and harvest season in full swing, we need to make some room.

Challenge Guidelines:

  1. I have one month
  2. Everything must go
  3. Nothing gets thrown away (well, maybe the puff pastry)
  4. Gifting is ok
  5. Pawning off crap is not
  6. I must report back on my progress one month from today

Get ready to witness some ruthless execution. Who’s with me?

How I Struck Gold In My Own Kitchen

I discovered something amazing this week that I need to share immediately: dish gloves. I supposed I’ve know about the existence of dish gloves for some time, and have even had a pair under my sink for years. I just always thought they were kind of unnecessary and ridiculous. So what really happened this week is I became a believer in dish gloves.

With the cold weather coming my “winter skin” is already setting in, making my hands dry and miserable. Anyone who knows me knows that I am constantly fighting a pretty extreme battle with the skin on my hands. I’ve tried everything and usually find little relief. To make matters worse, since I don’t have a dishwasher and am always cooking, my hands spend a lot of time in water. This is the last place they should be since water strips away the moisture barrier in your skin. Last year, I visited the dermatologist about my eczema and her first recommendation was to wear dish gloves.

So, I gave them a try (a year later) and am totally hooked. If you struggle with dry, cracked, chapped hands in the winter I highly recommend dish gloves. The pair I have are plain old pink latex gloves and they do the job just fine. But for fun, I spent some time perusing other options and stumbled upon the market of handmade accessorized dish gloves. Here’s a peak at what I found:

Cute and Classic…

green_floral_dish_gloves
Ditsy Floral Nitrile Cleaning Gloves$13 Etsy.com

Fringe!

yellow_dish_gloves_tassle
Designer Rubber Dish Gloves, $20 Etsy.com

For the temptress…

pink-feathered-hand-made-dish-gloves
Kitschy Kitschy Ya Ya Dish Gloves, $22 Etsy.com

How do you keep your hands in good shape in the cold weather?