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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?


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?


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.


Coconut Cranberry Pecan Balls

from Clean Food by Terry Waters

Makes 20-24 balls


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….

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?

my favorite carrot cake (and a giveaway!)

11 Mar

I have laryngitis.

For real. I cannot make a sound. All I can do is whisper. Brette thinks it’s hysterical. The dog is a bit wigged out. I’m annoyed. I’ve had to reschedule a number of meetings. That’s not really the annoying part though. The annoying part is that I love to talk and I can’t!

Along with the laryngitis is a super weird cold that can’t make up it’s mind. Congestion, headache, sneezing, and some general fatigue have all made an appearance.

Brette hasn’t been feeling well either so it’s pretty rockin’ at our house lately.

Oh, and I went vegan for lent. So no chicken noodle soup to cheer me up.

I do know what will cheer me up though….writing about cake and a giveaway!

I received an awesome gift in the mail from my friend (and my sister’s bff), Diane.  Diane is one of those people that you just love immediately. She has 6 kids (sainthood!), has about 38 different businesses, is one of the most creative people I’ve met, throws a mean Halloween party, and keeps my sister in line. Therefore,  I consider her family.  The fact that there was a package from her in my mailbox was all to exciting! I love getting mail and I love it more when it’s a package with something beautiful inside.

Diane’s daughter Beth is very talented and creative (the apple does not fall far) and has created these beautiful cake testers. I fell in love with it instantly. She even sent me one that matches my kitchen – sweet!

What’s even sweeter? Beth offered to give one of these testers away to a lucky reader. How awesome is that?

It seriously is adorable and I love the charm on the top that says ‘hand made with love’. Since cakes should be made with love, this seems to be a perfect match. They are simply beautiful.

She has a few different varieties on her site that you need to check out. I think these would make great mother’s day gifts, housewarming gifts, or certainly an anytime gift to a baker.

The best part of getting this in the mail was it meant that I HAD to bake a cake. I certainly had to test the product, right? It’s for research. I had to.

I put a call out on facebook for people’s favorite cake and it was pretty overwhelmingly red velvet.  I was set to go with that, but then two things happened.

1. A friend reminded me of the carrot cake Brette made on Easter last year to celebrate the end of no sugar. It was incredibly awesome. (thanks for the reminder Steff!)

2. We were invited to Willa’s for dinner, it happened to be within two days of her birthday, and her favorite cake is carrot cake.

So, carrot cake it was.

Between Brette and I, there have been several tweaks to this recipe. Here are a few things you should know about it.

  • There are no raisins or pineapple in this cake – I’m a purist. Only carrots and nuts allowed.
  • This cake is not a health food.
  • This cake is not vegan. It’s not gluten-free. It’s not lactose-free. It’s not really anything-free.
  • This cake is so good. It’s not to dense, it’s incredibly moist (I cringed typing that), and the flavor is perfect with the warm spices, sweet carrots, and the nuttiness of the pecans. Carrot cake is my absolute favorite and this version is the best I’ve had. And I’ve had a lot.

I put the cake tester to work and ya know what? It worked great and it was way more fun to use than a toothpick. I’ve never felt so stylin’ in my kitchen. It makes me want to bake even more. This could be dangerous.

Carrot Cake

serves 10-16 depending on how generous you are with the portions

Adapted from

Note: You can make this in either 2, 9-inch round pans or a 9×13 pan.

For the cake:

4 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

1/2 cup coconut oil (or substitute more veg oil or you probably could go just 1 1/4 cup coconut oil if you were feeling crazy)

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 cups grated carrots (a food processor or box grater work the best)

1 cup chopped pecans

For the frosting:

1/2 cup butter, softened

8 oz cream cheese, softened

4 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter (or spray) and flour your pan(s) of choice.

In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white and brown sugar and the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add into the wet ingredients, but don’t over mix.

Stir in carrots and then fold in 1 cup of chopped pecans.

Pour into prepared pan(s).

Bake for 25-30 minutes for round pans and 40-50 minutes for 9×13 pan, rotating the pan(s) halfway through.  Test with your cake tester and if it comes out clean, it’s done.

Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

For the frosting, combine butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Beat with a hand mixer or stand mixer until mixture is smooth and creamy. It takes a little bit for it all to come together so be patient. Frost the cooled cake and sprinkle with 1 cup chopped pecans. I frosted each layer and then around the the sides. I had just enough frosting. Okay, so I had a little bit left that I used as a filling for a graham cracker sandwich. I hate to see anything go to waste.

So, for the giveaway! Beth is giving away the design below. It’s gorgeous and sparkly and will make cake baking all that more exciting.

cake tester 1

To be eligible to win this beautiful cake tester, you can enter a number of ways (and each way if you’d like).

1. Leave a comment with your favorite cake.

2. Follow me on Twitter (and leave a comment that you did so).

3. Tweet about the giveaway and let me know you did: @jensaidso is having a sweet cake tester giveaway at!

The contest will remain open until Monday (3/14) at 5 p.m.  I will pick a winner at random.

In the meantime, check out Beth’s site to see all of the other beautiful designs.

Oh, and make the carrot cake while you’re at it.

nutty granola

8 Mar

I have talked about Brette’s love of granola before, but let me sum up.

He eats granola every morning for breakfast and then sometimes as a snack. He loves it. It trumps the Raisin Bran that he ate for breakfast for the 10 years prior to granola.  I make granola every weekend (and always a double batch) for him and I love knowing he’s getting the good stuff. Plus, I love having it around for a sprinkle on my yogurt and of course, a few pieces right out of the oven.

I’ve posted two different recipes for granola here; the summer version (no oven necessary) and the winter version. The winter has been the mainstay for awhile, but I try something new for fun every once in awhile. Usually Brette tells me, “it’s good, but not as good as the other (winter) stuff”.

Until now. I’ve been playing around with Alton Brown’s granola for the past few weeks and now have a version that Brette loves just as much (if not more) than the winter version. This granola is a bit nuttier than other versions and I even cut back on some of the nuts. The coconut adds a nice texture and it has just the right level of sweetness. Plus, it’s vegan!

Nutty Granola

adapted from Alton Brown

Makes about 5 cups and is very easy to double.

Notes: This recipe begs to be altered. I used a different nut and fruit each time I made it, including macadamia, pecans, walnuts, almonds (chopped, sliced and slivered), cashews and combinations of all of them. Use your favorites.

The brown rice syrup gives it a little bit of that clump factor, which I love. However, if you don’t have it or can’t find it, you can substitute more maple syrup. I have found it at both Whole Foods and my local co-op.

Alton’s version measures everything in ounces, which makes it super easy to do in one bowl without measuring cups. However, I know the majority of people don’t have a kitchen scale, so I converted into cups.

2 cups rolled oats

1 3/4 cups chopped nuts

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (or shredded – whatever you can find)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup ground flaxseed

3/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup canola oil (could substitute coconut or vegetable oil)

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup brown rice syrup

1/2 cup dried fruit (optional)


Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Mix oats through salt in a large bowl.

Combine oil, and both syrups. You may need to heat up the brown rice syrup a bit to stir with the others. Pour over oat mixture and stir to combine.  Spread out on a baking sheet ( no need to spray).
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Transfer granola to a large bowl and let cool for 30 minutes.  Mix in dried fruit. Store in airtight container for up to two weeks.

Our double batch doesn’t last a week thanks to my ultra metabolic machine of a husband.

black bean chili with butternut squash

24 Feb

I don’t remember eating chili growing up. I don’t know if that’s because it just wasn’t something my mom made, if I didn’t like it, or if I just have no memory of it. I adore chili now and it’s one of my favorite things to make during the cruel Minnesota winters. And I’m confident the chili I made this weekend will be remembered. It’s certainly one I will make again.

In the latest edition of Bon Appetit, there was a great feature article titled “The United States of Chili”. It featured different chilis from regions across the country. Brette made the Pork Chile Verde for our intimate Superbowl gathering (just the two of us and our cozy pants) and it was delicious. I was very curious to try the vegetarian (vegan if you don’t add any cheese or sour cream) version that represented health-conscious California. When it became apparent on Sunday that we would not be going anywhere due to the sky throwing up 18 inches of snow, it was quickly decided that this was a perfect day for chili.

I was a bit nervous because of the squash involved. Brette is not the biggest squash fan. So, when he asked what was in the chili, I may have left out a certain ingredient in my description. Thankfully, Brette loved the dish just as much as I did.

It takes a bit of time since you are using dried beans, but it’s not active time. You can easily get a cookbook read in the time your chili is cooking. I would highly advise against substituting canned black beans. They would get mushy quick. One thing I really liked about this dish is that the beans held their shape and actually gave you something to chew. The bulgur really thickens it up and gives it a nice texture. And the dreaded squash? I thought it brought a needed sweetness to the bowl.

I included the suggested toppings below. I opted for greek yogurt and cilantro. Brette added cheese and his homemade pickled jalapenos and thought they really made the chili pop. We also whipped up some cornbread which made a perfect accompaniment. It was super tasty and satisfying meal that didn’t leave you feeling heavy. The leftovers have been highly anticipated.

Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash

from bon appetit with notes from Jen

Makes 8-10 servings

Note: This makes a lot of chili. We found it keeps well in the fridge (at least 5 days) and I think it would freeze well too.

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes (I used Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes – 1 can diced and 1 can crushed – because it was what I had)
  • 1 pound dried black beans, rinsed
  • 2 chipotle chiles from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (if you are super sensitive to spice, just use one. I used two and thought it had a decent but not crazy amount of spice.)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 1 2 1/4-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking bulgur
  • Topping ideas:

  • Sour cream (or tofu cream) or greek yogurt
  • Coarsely grated hot pepper
  • Monterey jack, cheddar or mozzarella cheese (or soy cheese)
  • Diced red onion chopped
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Pickled jalapeño rings
  • Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft and beginning to brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Sprinkle chili powder and coriander over; stir 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice, beans, chipotles, and oregano. Add 10 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours (time will vary depending on freshness of beans). Season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

    Stir squash and bulgur into chili. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat until squash and bulgur are tender, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Do you have a favorite chili? Please share!

    gourmet dinner club: southern style

    13 Feb

    I have a confession. When Liza announced the that the theme for our next Gourmet Dinner Club was “the south”, I got a bit nervous. The few times I’ve been south, I haven’t had the best food (aside from the ribs at Rendezvous, of course) and when I think of southern food, I think of grease, pools of butter and all things fried. Not that any of these are bad, but just not my typical fare.

    Well let me just say, after eating like we did at this dinner party, I’m a southern convert!

    We had such a great meal and so much fun in the process.

    One of the  points of the GDC is to try things you haven’t tried before and to venture out of your comfort zone. That is precisly why I chose to make hush puppies. I knew it would involve deep frying. This is something I’ve never actually done desipte the fact that we received a deep fryer as a wedding gift 8 years ago. I finally cracked open the box and gave it a go.

    My nemisis

    After enjoying a glass of the Souther Comfort Punch, I was ready to face it. (Note: Sweet Tea was also available)

    I followed Paula Deen’s recipe (I consider her an authority on southern fare). The batter was a cinch to throw together.  And really, once I pulled up my big girl pants, the frying part was easy too.

    I sprinkled them with salt right after they came out of the fryer (Liza’s suggestion) and they were quite tasty. I’ve never actually had a hush puppy before, but according to the experts in the room, these were spot on. Yay!

    Our special guest, Liza’s neighbor Stephanie, brought another Paula Deen creation – similar to a hush puppy, but called Spicy Corn and Crab Puffs. These were also deep fried and I must say…awesome.  I loved the chunks of crab and veggies and they had the perfect amount of spice for my taste.

    Also on the appetizer front, we had two different crab cakes. Because there can never be enough crab cakes.

    Kari made hers following this recipe and served them with an avocado and yogurt dip. Lee used a recipe from guess who? Yep, Paula Deen. Apparently she has a reputation. Both were good, yet very different. I love all things crab.

    Enjoying the pre-dinner appetizers.


    After all of that, we weren’t even to the actual dinner!

    Liza went all out for the main course. Pulled pork is one of my all-time favorties and this version was fantastic.

    Liza’s husband, Rob, is also a fantastic cook and happens to be a pro pork shredder.

    I also realized how much I like the Memphis style. That means you put coleslaw on top of your pork.  There is just something about the combination of the crunchy coleslaw and tender pork that creates the most amazing sandwich. She followed this recipe for the pork and this recipe for the slaw. Both were seriously awesome. (Liza did note that the recipe did not make nearly enough sauce as it claims.)


    Amanda and Becky (our special out of town guest) made collard greens. When I think of collard greens, I think copious amounts of pork fat and cooked to death greens. These were just the opposite. Fresh and delicious and instead of pork? Raisins! I loved the combo of raisins and greens. They used this recipe.

    Lee also brought succotash. That word just screams the south, doesn’t it? This dish had bacon. Mmm…bacon.

    After all of that, we were all stuffed. However, we still had 3 desserts. Yes, 3!

    Amanda and Becky were busy bees and also put together this Mississippi Mud Pie. Holy chocolatey and rich!

    Michael also made a pie. A Buttermilk pie. This buttermilk pie using this pie crust recipe. Did  I mention he added fresh whipped cream spiked with Grand Marnier on top? He did. Then he added candied orange peels. Mike claims he’s not a baker. He lies. He’s an awesome baker. The buttermilk pie reminded me a lot of a ricotta cheesecake. It was awesome. Not to sweet and super creamy.

    Mike also decided to whip up these Pecan Pralines. I think because he was worried we wouldn’t hit our caloric needs for the day. Or maybe just because it was the south, and they eat pralines there.

    Can you believe all of that? It was such a fun and delicious evening. I am always amazed at the dinners this group is able to pull off.

    Do you like Southern Food? What’s your favorite?