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gourmet dinner club: mexican

31 Mar

It’s funny to me that we’ve had so many gatherings of the Gourmet Dinner Club and this our first Mexican theme. We were definitely due to tackle the very popular Mexican cuisine. Rick Bayless – watch out! Lee, our host, did a great job of creating a Mexican evening that we all enjoyed. This time around, we let everyone know what we were bringing so that we knew all bases were covered. And boy were they covered.


This particular evening happened to fall during vegan lent and since I’m trying to do this right, this night was not an exception. So, even though I didn’t sample every dish (so hard!), I am doing a thorough write-up and made sure to get everyone’s thoughts.

The appetizers

Liza’s mom was our special guest for the evening and she brought one of my all-time favorite foods, securing her on my favorite people list forever, guacamole.

We won’t talk about how much of that bowl I ate. it was fantastic. Did you know that you should leave the avocado pit in the guacamole because it keeps it from browning? I always learn something new at the GDC.

Also on the appetizer table were sopes – made by Kari.

Aren’t they beautiful? They got rave reviews too. Some had shrimp on top and others had a black bean mixture along with Mexican cheese of course.

Lee had quite the array of beverages to help us wash down the guac and sopes, inlcuding Mexican Beer,water, juice and a  Mexican sangria that was super tasty. She served them in very small glasses which made it completely acceptable to have three.

After we were finished with our apps and I was finished telling my story about cooking at the Corner Table, it was time to move to the table.

The Main Meal

First up – vegan tortilla soup! Amanda is such a sweetheart and found a vegan version of this Mexican favorite. I found it to be super tasty and I didn’t miss the chicken at all.

I never knew that tortilla soup had pureed tortillas IN the soup. Is this a well known fact that I just was not privy to? The crunchy strips on top were my favorite part.

Mike, who always wins for presentation, had another home run with his Mexican Rice topped with edible flowers. He created his own recipe because he’s cool like that and it included  garlic, cumin, chili powder, mint (common in the Oaxaca region), tomatoes, stock and a good grating of cotjia cheese. What’s not to like?

I took the vegan route of course and made potato and kale enchiladas from Veganomicon. They were a bit time consuming to make, as I need to roast peppers, make two different sauces, cook the potato and kale and then assemble. I’m pretty sure I dirtied every dish in my house. It looked like a bomb went off. I served them with extra sauce, cilantro “cream” (tofu), and pumpkin seeds. I would definitely make them again, but on a weekend. They keep well and I think they would freeze well too.

Here’s a look at it all put together. You can also see the black beans that Lee was kind enough to make for me. Thanks Lee!

For the main course, Lee tackled Rick Bayless’s carne asada. It looked delicious.I had some of the sauce on my beans and it was tangy and sweet. Why was it sweet? Because it had prunes in it! Fun, right?

Dessert

I love sweets so this was the hardest thing for me not to eat. Liza made tres leches cake using this recipe. There were lots of moans and groans of happiness around the table as people ate. It was an absolute hit. I think Mike tried to actually steal the leftovers at some point. Amanda who doesn’t normally like tres leches was smitten. I think she’s a convert.

No one ever leaves the GDC hungry and this evening was no exception. Despite not being able to eat many of the dishes, I was still stuffed when I left. I blame the guacamole.

As we were prepping dessert, Amanda and Mike were trying to figure out if they are related. I think the mystery is not yet solved, but how cool would that be? I can see the headline: Gourmet Dinner Club brings together long lost cousins.

It was another great evening of the GDC.

Do you have a favorite Mexican Recipe? Are there any above you’d like more detail on?

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What do you eat?

30 Mar

The following post is written by Willa – a Featured Contributor and vegan lent participant.

It’s hard to believe that we are at the halfway point in our vegan lent challenge. The week before vegan lent started I ate out a lot. To my great fortune, it coincided perfectly with Restaurant Week and my birthday. Not that I ever need them, I found myself with multiple reasons to go out and enjoy tons of amazing food.

I assumed that eating out would come to a screeching halt, but that has not been the case. Many restaurants already have a vegan option on the menu or they are willing to work with “special dietary considerations.” While I have put the latter to test with great success, I am not going to make a habit of it. I will leave the menu design and dish creation to the chefs.

Which restaurants are vegan friendly? More than you would think. While I haven’t personally eaten at all of these restaurants, I’d like to provide a short list that might appeal to all likings: Au Bon Pain, Shish Cafe, Chipotle, Pizza Luce, Triple Rock Social Club, California Pizza Kitchen, Ecopolitan, Everest on Grand, Turtle Bread, Red Stag Supperclub, and French Meadow Cafe.

An interesting predicament has arisen from my vegan experience. At this point, I don’t miss any particular foods eggs. While I have not found it hard to be vegan, I do not plan on being vegan forever. That said, I feel incredibly defensive when asked, “But, what do you eat?” or told that it is impossible to eat well as a vegan.

Modesty is going out the window. I am defensive because I know a lot about food. It is an obsession of mine, both for the better and worse. I cook great, healthy food. Prepackaged convenience food-like items with 50 ingredients that I can’t pronounce do not make an appearance in my kitchen.

I love to cook. It is not a burden for me. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. But, if you want to talk food and health with me I am well equipped for the discussion.

There are two very important factors that can’t be overlooked: 1) we can afford to eat well and 2) I am cooking for 2 people, not a family of 4 or more. I have the time and monetary luxury of making the food decisions that I do.

So, back to the original question, what do I eat? I seriously considered recording every single morsel of food that I put into my mouth and attaching it as an addendum to the blog. Really? Who wants to read about what I ate for every meal, every day, for forty days? I know I don’t.

Here is an idea of what I typically eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. In case you’re wondering, I am not starving nor deprived. I have not been eating a bunch of weird foods that you can’t find at the regular grocery store. You might agree or disagree with me. I know I am putting myself out there for critique but it is something we can all learn from.

Breakfast

Grape Nuts cereal, soymilk, blueberries or blackberries, chia seed; coffee

Ezekiel or sourdough toast, almond butter, banana; coffee

Oatmeal with banana, soymilk, and peanut butter (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it)

Snack

Handful of cashews and an apple

Cherry Pie Lara Bar and a pear

Peanut butter granola bar and a banana

Soy latte and a banana

Lunch and/or Dinner

Whole wheat penne with kale, garlic, cherry tomatoes, cannelini beans, kalamata olives, crushed red pepper flakes, olive oil

Giant salad with mixed greens, shredded carrots, bell pepper, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, garbanzos, edamame, pepita seeds and vinaigrette

Lentil soup, bread, salad

Stir fry with tofu, carrot, onion, red bell pepper, celery,  and spinach served with basmati or jasmine rice

Black bean chili, rice, salad

Whole wheat noodles with peanut sauce, red bell pepper, onion, carrot, cilantro, and tofu

I try to fill our plates with delicious fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats (sounds a little like the Mediterranean diet to me, sans fish of course). Some days I eat more, some days I eat less. I typically eat a lot on Saturdays because that is our long run day. I always eat a lot on long run days because running 10+ miles makes me really hungry.

It’s funny, so many people have cautiously asked, “How’s it going?” I can see the disappointment when I don’t have any vegan horror stories to tell. All in all, I basically eat the same things that I did before vegan lent.  Anticlimactic, I know but it is a good example of how livable a vegetable based diet can be.

Are you willing to tip the seesaw of balance on your plate from primarily meat to primarily vegetables?

What do you think would be the biggest change, or the food that you would miss most?

coconut cranberry pecan balls

29 Mar

These are the new favorite food in our house.

They are also from my new favorite cookbook and vegan lent inspiration, Clean Food by Terry Waters.

Willa actually made them first and brought them to the gym as a post-run snack. They made the best snack ever!

They remind me a lot of Larabars….but even better since you can make them in your own home.

They beg to be played with. I think dried cherries would be delicious and dates would be tasty too. For the nuts, cashews might be an interesting option. I’m sure you could swap out nut butters, but I really like the almond butter in this one. I actually made my own almond butter. I used this recipe as my inspiration, but I just used plain roasted almonds and salt.  Ashley’s other nut butters are delicious though – you should check them out.

Maybe some chunks of chocolate would be welcomed? Hmmm…

I have found it’s hard to eat just one of these. However, I’m always completely satisfied after two. They are full of satiating ingredients and do a great job of taming my sweet tooth and my growling stomach.

These treats are a great afternoon snack or a healthy dessert. They taste even better after a hard workout, but I won’t hold it against you if you eat one for breakfast or just because.

Enjoy!

Coconut Cranberry Pecan Balls

from Clean Food by Terry Waters

Makes 20-24 balls

Ingredients:

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened dried coconut

1 1/2 cups toasted pecans

1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup almond butter

1/2 cup maple syrup

To toast the pecans, you can either put them in a dry skillet on the stovetop on medium low heat until fragrant or pop them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. I suggest toasting a few extras for your oatmeal in the morning – it’s awesome.

Place the coconut in a small bowl and set aside.

Add all of the other ingredients to a food processor and process to form a stiff paste.  Taking a heaping tablespoon of dough at a time, form into balls with your hands and roll in the coconut.  Store in an airtight container.

I kept them in the fridge for more than a week and they’re still good!

Oh, and they’re vegan! Shhh….

I’m not a Confident Cook

24 Mar

This post is written by Featured Contributor, Amanda.

People who know me would say that I’m a very motivated and positive person. But when it comes to cooking, I’m not a confident cook. Nevertheless, I’m determined not to let that stop me.

I’m not sure when I came to actually enjoy cooking. I can honestly tell you that I probably cooked an actual dish for the first time my senior year in college and I don’t think it was anything to brag about. Some sort of casserole or box mix for sure. Then came the Peace Corps where I only had a small kerosene stove, soybean oil, and a limited number of pots and utensils. Nevertheless, that was the first time in my life where I was totally on my own as far as food went. Luckily the wonderful family downstairs invited me into their home and subsequently their family and fed me dinner quite often during the week. I could only repay them by helping to prepare the food and by purchasing exciting new fruits and vegetables from the market. I also taught my Appa (sister) to make spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (whenever I could afford the imported cheese), no-bake cookies, and even popcorn. It’s true; they had never seen corn pop from the kernel. They thought I was a magician!

Upon returning to the U.S., I took it upon myself to continue this whole “cooking” thing that I had started in Bangladesh. A 4-burner stovetop, oven, and a sink with a faucet of drinkable water seemed like a dream come true.

Fast forward to 2007 when Jen asked me to join the GDC (Gourmet Dinner Club). I’m not sure what made her think I was worthy to join these ranks, but I accepted the offer. I spilled red pepper all over my black dress at the first dinner, broke down emotionally over German Chocolate Cake, and even threw in the towel on the French challenge and picked up a platter from “Pardon my French” instead of cooking anything. The GDC also serves as a source of new vocabulary for me as I just learned a new term this past weekend: charcuterie.

I try to turn my less-than-confident cooking nature into a “quirky” bit and I just cross my fingers that others find it somewhat cute and endearing. Unfortunately, I think people are starting to catch on. Perhaps my numerous questions are the give away.  I’m just not a confident cook. Here are some examples of real questions I have asked my more culinarily (I made this word up) endowed friends and relatives:

-What’s the difference between regular and quick oats? And which ones work in no-bake cookies?

-Why are red lentils called “red lentils” when they are in fact orange?

-Can I defrost something without pushing the defrost button on the microwave?

-How long do I have after a piece of chicken has defrosted before I have to throw it away?

-Can I freeze jalapeños?

-How do people typically cook poultry in order to then add it to soup or a baked dish?

-Why is unsweetened coconut so damn hard to find in your basic grocery store?

There have been many more embarrassing questions, but I’ve succeeded in blocking them from my memory…until I need the answer again.

I can proudly say that I’ve come a long way. I know there are many more mistakes on the horizon, but with each mistake comes a new realization and of course the successes keep increasing. Watch out “Cook’s Illustrated,” cover model here I come!

Do you have ever have cooking questions that you feel like everyone else already knows the answers to? Are there certain meals or dishes that have intimidated you?

the incredible edible egg

23 Mar

The following post is by Meghan. She is one of the four people participating in vegan lent.

You know how everyone says bacon is THE reason they could never possibly be vegetarian? Pretty sure eggs are THE reason I may not be able to be full time vegan. I don’t even miss them much yet but I miss how easy and quick they are.

Vegan lent rules. I’m beyond stoked about it but I’m not gonna lie – this past week was a challenge. I was starving pretty much all week, but it is my fault. I didn’t plan well. And as we all know, eating healthy is an act of thoughtful preparation.

Lent conveniently coincides with my hell time at work which means I am working some intense hours leaving little room for much else. Between trying to get in a few gym sessions and hoping to sleep a little, my diet was mildly ignored which left me hungry. Everyday. This is typically where eggs come in as my saving grace – chock full o’ protein and oh so delicious with even just a little salt and pepper. I will save any moral commentary here because yes, I am painfully aware of the implications of eating eggs and believe it or not, think about those every time I eat them. Doesn’t mean I don’t still love ‘em.

So this weekend we planned. Big time. We cooked. Big time. And now I am ready to face a week full of healthy, delicious, homemade vegan food. Bring it on.

Until lent is over my favorite go to protein source is now Seitan. But not the weird, salty, over processed goop at the store. I finally made my own. With a little help from T-dogg of course. I actually view seitan as my “meat” in that it still doesn’t feel like the most healthy food ever. I can’t eat it everyday but for my next “I’m starving” moment, I have a supply of homemade yummy goodness to throw into just about anything.

Steamed Red Seitan ~ Adapted from Viva Vegan! by Terry Hope Romero

For my homies who know the amazingness of Horizon’s – this doesn’t even come close but it’ll do. For those who don’t know the magical heaven that is Horizon’s I will say this, if I were rich I would make special arrangements to fly to Philly on the regular solely to eat there. Nuff said.

She makes a red and white version – I like the red best so whoop here it is…

1 ½ C cold vegetable broth

4 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed

3 T soy sauce

4 T tomato paste

2 T olive oil

1 ½ C vital wheat gluten flour

¼ C chickpea (garbanzo flour)

¼ C nutritional yeast

1 t dried oregano

½ t ground cumin

1) In measuring cup, whisk together the broth, garlic, soy sauce, tomato paste, and olive oil.2) In large bowl, combine wheat gluten, chickpea flower, nutritional yeast, oregano, and cumin. Form a well in the center.

3) Pour liquid ingredients into the well and stir with rubber spatula until dough leaves the side of the bowl.

4) Knead dough for 2-3 minutes to develop the gluten (it will get kinda stringy and mushy).

5) Let dough rest for 10 minutes; knead again for 30 seconds.

6) Place dough on cutting board, cut into four equal pieces with sharp knife then lightly knead each piece a few times.

7) Shape each into a roughly oblong loaf shape.

8) Tear off four 12-inch square sheets of aluminum foil. Place a piece of dough in the of a piece of foil. Fold the short sides of foil over the loaf, then fold the long ends over. The foil should be secure but you want a lil loose space around the dough so it can expand while cooking. Repeat with the other pieces of dough.

9) Place wrapped dough in a steamer basket and steam for 30 minutes. Unwrap and let cool while sitting on foil.

She says for best texture and flavor to prepare a day or two in advance. I agree. Just make sure it cools completely before you store it. To store it, wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap. It stores up to two weeks in fridge but can also be frozen (wrap tightly) then thawed in fridge. I used the loaves after both storing methods and it was great. I’ve learned sautéing it in peanut oil gives it some awesome crunch but I’m sure cooking it up in any oil will work. We served it with homemade tortilla’s, sautéed onions and peppers in Mexican red sauce.

Are you veg or vegan? What are your favorite go to sources of protein in a pinch?

the night I cooked at the Corner Table Restaurant

20 Mar

This past week I attended an event specifically for Minnesota Food Bloggers. Getting together with people who like to geek out about food as much as I do is one sweet way to spend an evening.

What makes it even better? I actually got to cook with a fellow food blogger in the kitchen of the Corner Table!

But let me back up.

This evening was the second gathering of local food bloggers and I see it becoming a regular occurrence. This edition was hosted by  Scott Pampuch from the Corner Table. Why? Because Scott is a very smart man. You’ll see why by reading the following.

Upon arriving, we got to mingle with fellow food lovers which is always super fun. Plus, I got to speak with Scott himself and tell him how much I enjoyed my experience at his restaurant (you can read my review here).

Photo by Amy Peterson

I may or may not have touched his arm about 12 times. Apparently I was a little star struck. I’m confident he dug that, but was sick of me touching him. We all have our social awkwardness. Touching other’s arms is mine.

During all the chatting, bloggers feasted on an amazing spread that consisted of a very large charcuterie platter and various breads and relishes. It was nothing short of amazing and it got rave reviews from fellow bloggers. Us bloggers, we like to rave about good food.

Then came for the main event and the reason he invited us into his establishment for the evening. He spoke to us about all he’s doing to elevate the local food movement – he is the best in the city about working with local farmers. Seriously. Most importantly, he wanted to tell us about his latest project: Community Supported Kitchen (or CSK). Similar to the concept of a CSA, a CSK box includes locally sourced meats, dairy and prepared products like chicken stock, pickled carrots, braised cabbage or similar items that are in season. It’s a pretty cool idea and would be a great compliment to those who have a CSA. The project will be starting soon and has options for families of 2, 4, and 6 and it’s very flexible as far as the commitment is concerned. Keep your eye on their web site for more details and while you’re there, check out the menu.

After hearing from those who had piloted the program (all feedback was positive), Scott allowed us to tear into the CSK boxes and head to the kitchen.

Ummm…excuse me? I can cook in the Corner Table kitchen and you will provide me with everything I need? Um…okay. You’ll even let us use chef Dan to cater to our every whim? Check.

I followed fellow blogger, Kate, when she jumped up and grabbed a box before Scott could stop talking.  With very little prodding, we ran headed into the kitchen and got cooking. The crowd of camera-crazed bloggers followed.

Kate tackled the marinated chicken and also cooked up the sausages in a lovely red wine reduction. As a bed for the sausages, I put together somewhat of a hash out of bacon, onion, apple and the braised cabbage. And yes, I had Chef Dan cut up my apple. I had to have him do it twice – and can’t believe I told him what to do. He was so nice about it too!

Here’s what it looked like after it was finished…and a few bites were taken. (Yes, I tasted it. I was not going to serve food bloggers something I didn’t try! I’m hoping my fellow vegan lent participants forgive me. )

Thanks to fellow bloggers, Joy and Amy, here is a photo journey of the evening.

Here’s me telling Scott what’s up. Clearly, he is impressed.

Photo by Joy

Maybe not.

Photo by Joy

Inside the CSK Box…

Photo by Amy

Surely if we point to the contents in the box long enough, we’ll figure out what to do with them…..

Photo by Amy

Kate praying that I don’t slice my finger open.

Photo by Amy

 

Feeling the pressure….

Photo by Amy

I can’t believe I’m cooking in this kitchen!

Photo by Amy

 

Please don’t let me mess this up.

Photo by Amy

 

Stacks of All-Clad pans – a dream come true.

Photo by Joy

 

And scene.

After we finished our stint, other bloggers and Scott and Dan all got cooking in the kitchen. Burger, eggs and lots of bacon were enjoyed by all. Well not all, I abstained…except for that one bite!

Photo by Amy

 

Having cooked with the contents of the CSK box, here are my thoughts.

The food is high quality and is better than anything you’re going to find at the store.

This would work well for a family who likes to cook and has confidence in the kitchen. Recipes are not provided. Scott is against providing recipes and while I can understand him wanting people to learn technique and then get creative, I do think some general suggestions would be nice. Something like, “this chicken would go really well with the following in-season produce”. Somewhat of a roadmap without getting as specific as a recipe would be nice.

Families who are busy (and who isn’t) that want to eat quality food from quality sources and like meat (the box was very meat-heavy), this is for you. You’ll still need to go to the farmer’s market or grocery store to round things out, but this saves you many steps and will provide some yummy eats.

Vegetarians, this might not be for you. However, maybe if it goes over well, Scott will consider a vegetarian box? Just a thought.

 

So, have you figured out why Scott is such a smart man? Clearly, if you invite food bloggers to your restaurant and let them cook (and eat. and drink), we will take photos and write about it.

 

What do you think of the CSK idea? Would it be something you would get involved with?

 

Note: The food and experience provided at this event was free. However, my opinions are my own and I was not asked to write about it.

 

 

 

 

 

friday highlights

18 Mar

Since I’m lacking the time and the brainpower to put together an in-depth meaningful post, I thought I’d share some highlights of my week. Some of which I will expound on in later posts.

Friday is a good day for bullets, don’t ya think?

  • I ate at the all-raw restaurant, Ecopolitan, Monday night with Meghan and Willa. It confirmed that I’m not completely hippy, but I can survive among them happily.

  • I got a flat tire one block from my house. Be careful of large puddles of water. There are pot holes underneath them just waiting to bite you.
  • Thanks to Liza, the local vegan lent participants participated in a meal swap. It was awesome.
  • I ran….outside! I’m very hopeful that spring has finally sprung and the rest of this snow will disappear quickly.
  • I have very strange leg pain going on that is either concerning or a sign that I’m aging.
  • I made this dish in the Corner Table Kitchen with Kate. I will definitely expound on this evening. Holy crap was it cool.

  • Aside from the above, I haven’t cooked anything all week. It was awesome and sad all at the same time.
  • I am very excited for my weekend as it includes running outside and Gourmet Dinner Club: Mexican style. I’m attempting vegan enchiladas. Wish me luck.

Did you have any highlights of the week? Anything you’re looking forward to this weekend?