Monthly Archives: July 2013

Squashed Spaghetti

I’m down to the home stretch. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Only a few more days in this vegetable desert! But for now, I’m still here, and I’ve gotta eat. So I’m still trying to mix things up a bit. Though at this point, everything is starting to taste the same.

My mouth is watering as I think about what’s coming. My friend, whom I’m walking in this desert with, will be cooking cheesy chicken enchiladas to celebrate the end of our diet. You better believe I will thoroughly enjoy them! I can almost taste their melty gooey cheesy goodness right now! I will, for sure, include a recipe for my own cheesy enchiladas when I make some for myself. As absolutely delicious as they are, they are extremely simple to prepare. You can watch for that.

For now, seeing as how my culinary canon is still in effect, I’m going to attempt to recreate a staple of any family’s dinner menu – spaghetti. “But you can’t have pasta!” you might be screaming right now. And you’re absolutely right. This is why I’ll be utilizing the often overlooked spaghetti squash!

Spaghetti-SquashFor those of you who don’t know what this is, the spaghetti squash is an oddity of nature. When you slice this squash in half and bake it, the flesh of the spaghetti squash comes apart in strands, resembling spaghetti noodles, and it has a slight buttery flavor. It still has the texture of squash, but if you close your eyes and imagine real hard, it’s almost like eating real spaghetti. It’s a great spaghetti substitute for those who are vegans, alergic to gluten, folks on a low carb diet, or even for those looking for a healthy and light alternative to the high-calorie traditional spaghetti.

It’s good with a little butter and Parmesan or Romano cheese, and an Italian meat sauce. Since I can’t partake of any of that, I’ll have to settle for a tasty homemade marinara with mushrooms. And instead of meatballs, I’m cooking up some chopped zucchini and yellow squash. … O meat, how I miss you so!

SpaghettiSquashAs it turns out, this is one of the better meals I’ve prepared during this diet. I think it ranks up there with my quinoa lettuce wraps.

One of the guests at our Monday night group – the event for which I prepared this delicacy – told me that no one has ever convinced her to eat squash before (she’s not a fan apparently). She liked this dish though, which is surprising, seeing as how it’s made up almost entirely of squash. It just Goes to show you that with the right combination of flavors and textures, you can turn anything into a delicious meal! Though she did pick out all the mushrooms (apparently not a fan of those either)…

If you’d like to try your hand at this squashy spaghetti facsimile, you can find the recipe in the recipes section of the blog.

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The Art of Concocting

It’s one thing to be able to cook a great meal from a recipe on the side of a box, or even out of a cookbook, but it’s another thing entirely to whip up something delicious from the things you might have lying around your kitchen. In my opinion, if you desire to become a great cook, being good at the latter is a must. Becoming great in the kitchen requires a level competence in the fine art of concocting.

There are several different areas to pay attention to when learning how to concoct. The first, and most obvious aspect of concocting is paying attention to flavors – which flavors will play well or compliment others and which flavors won’t. But there’s more to it than that, as anyone who’s ever eaten a soggy pizza knows.

An often overlooked aspect of concocting is the issue of texture. Paying attention to the textures of different foods and what they’ll feel like together can sometimes separate a good dish from a great dish. If a concoction has great flavor, but has a boring texture, it loses something.  On the other hand, even a dish with a mediocre flavor  but a really interesting texture, can be a marvelous concoction!

And lastly there is the detail of visual presentation. Paying attention to color and shape – how your creation looks – can help your concoction be mouthwatering even before it meets any tastebuds. If something looks like mud, it’s less likely to be enjoyed to the fullness it may deserve. Even if something has dull flavor and a mediocre texture, if it’s presented well, the anticipation of the one to whom it’s served will play a part how the dished is ultimately perceived. Presentation is often viewed as an unnecessary detail, but it can greatly enhance the experience of any meal.

Nailing any one of these three parts of concoction-design can make for good food, but when all three are working well together, you have the makings of a fantastic meal!

That being said, when concocting, it’s important to realize going into it that what you create might not be your greatest creation ever. In fact, some of your first concoctions may likely be some of the worst things you’ve ever tasted. It’s ok. You’ve just learned what not to do.  Thomas Edison famously said that he never failed to make a working light bulb, he simply first had to figure out all the ways to not make a light bulb. Failing is how we learn.  Don’t get discouraged.  Believe me, I’ve definitely made some meals fit for the garbage can.

ConcoctionThis dish is my latest concoction. It has three distinct components and combines a total of 7 ingredients plus seasonings. I call it, … um … dinner! Ha!

What you’re looking at is sauteed yellow squash with black beans set on a base of coarsely mashed potatoes with sauteed onions, topped with a fresh marinara made from Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, and jalapeno. It’s not the most beautiful (I didn’t have anything to garnish it with), but it is very flavorful. The savory body of the potatoes & onions mixed with the slightly crisp texture of the yellow squash, flavored by the deliciously spicy goodness of the marinara will make your mouth dance for joy! If you’d like to know more about what it is, and even taste it for yourself, you can find the recipe over in the recipes section under Dinner Concoction #1.

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By the way, if you’re unsure of your concocting abilities, stick to recipes for a while. Using recipes is a great way to learn how different foods behave on the stove and in the oven, and how different flavors mix with each other. If you pay attention to details such as these, you’ll be concocting in no time at all!

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Holy Guacamole

Guac-IngredientsTonight, I tried my hand at a creation suggested by one of my good friends. She is walking along with me in this fruit and vegetable desert. We’re often exchanging ideas about how to break up what can become a monotonous stream of fiber. She’s very creative, so I’m always eager to hear what she’s coming up with. The other day she told me she had enjoyed black beans topped with guacamole. Anything, according to her, with guacamole on it is bound to be delicious.

I’m inclined to agree. So I borrowed her idea. However, I decided to add to it a bit to make this my own. What I ended up with is a simple yet delicious plate of seasoned black beans over a bed of brown rice, topped with a mango-lime guacamole.

The unlike most guacamoles I’ve tasted, the mango and lime work together to give it a sour and sweet quality that goes very will with salty things (such as tortilla chips). Unfortunately, tortilla chips are not part of the landscape of this veggie desert. This is where the beans and rice come in. Savory black beans with a sweet guacamole isn’t the same as guac and chips, but it’s still pretty damn delicious! I recommend it!

Black-Beans-and-Rice-with-Guac

If you’d like to try it, you can find the recipe in the recipes section of the blog.

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Monday Night Quinoa

Every Monday night, my friend and I host a weekly dinner and discussion group. We meet at her house, and most of the time I cook dinner for everyone. It’s a fun time. We all gather around the kitchen and talk about life while I cook dinner, and then we get to enjoy a lovely meal together. There are a few of us that are there fairly consistently, and when you share a meal like that every week, you begin to know each other like family. I love it!

It’s one thing to walk through this veggie desert by myself, but when I’m cooking for other people as well, I feel a particular pressure to make something that everyone will enjoy, even if they’re not eating a vegatarian diet. So I did what I always do when I need to cook something that needs to be tasty and fun. I cooked something I’ve never cooked before. Not only that, I cooked with ingredients that I’ve never used before. It’s a risk, I suppose, but over the years I’ve become confident in my culinary gifting.

QuinoaLettuceWrapTonight, I cooked up some lettuce wraps, using quinoa as a base. Quinoa is a grain, similar to rice. But when it’s cooked, it has a texture similar to couscous. I’ve never cooked quinoa until tonight, and I’ve only eaten it a couple times. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with it. Fortunately, like rice, it’s pretty easy to work with. To be fair though, I didn’t actually prepare the quinoa. My friend, at whose house we host this dinner discussion group, prepared it in her steamer. So I can’t take all the credit.

Anyway, this is what I ended up with. It turned out very nicely.

It’s a quinoa lettuce wrap with tomatoes, carrots, fresh green chillies, red bell pepper, sweet red onions, black beans, peaches, lime and cilantro with fresh avocado. It was quite a cacophony of flavors. Oh, and it was topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The vinegar mingling with the peaches, oh what flavor! Top it with some avocado and a slice of lime… Delicious! Plus, if you try you can make it look very pretty. Pretty is always a plus when it comes to food.

If this is something you’d like to try for yourself – I recommend it – you can find the recipe over on the recipe’s section of the blog. It was pretty simple to prepare.

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disappointment

I was not feeling particularly led to cook anything today. Not really. I already have a couple sets of leftovers from the few previous meals I’ve cooked – all of them delicious – and there really isn’t a need. There’s that, and there’s also the fact that I’m still making my way through my self-imposed fruit and vegetable desert. When you can’t cook what you really want, the desire to cook is somewhat diminished. But… I figured since this is still a budding little blog, it would be a good idea to do something. So I thought, what can I cook that requires the least effort, but will still be worth sharing with all of you.

ImageLong story short, I cooked up some black beans and rice with avocado & mushrooms. It was alright, but it wan’t great. I plated it and tried to make it look nice and pretty, and honestly, for as simple as it was, it tasted pretty good. But the reality is, when all you really want is a bowl of fruit loops & milk, a plate of black beans & rice really doesn’t do much. You know?

So I finish my meal and get on my computer to check email and I see that one of my fellow food bloggers has posted a new recipe. I like to see what other cooks in the bloggosphere are up to, so I checked it out. Given the disappointing experience with tonights dinner that I just recounted, this was a poor decision.

I click on the link to go to her blog, and she has posted a recipe – with pictures – of Red-Lobster-style cheddar biscuits! WITH PICTURES!! Oh my word! I thought my beans and rice didn’t measure up to fruit loops. Put it up against those lumps of baked cheesy goodness, I might as well be eating mud.

Anyway, now that I’ve really sold you on MY creation, if you’d like to try it out for yourself and draw your own conclusions, you can find the recipe in the recipe’s section of the blog.

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Vegan Buffalo Wedges

I was out the other night with some friends at a local bar, playing a game of competitive trivia, when one of the guys that was with us came back after being gone for a little while with box full of Buffalo wings. My eyes got wide and my mouth started to water, but then almost instantly I was punched in the tastebuds when I reminded myself, I’m still doing this three week no meat no dairy, fruits and vegetables only diet.  But they’re Buffalo wings!  Right there in front of me!

But allas, Buffalo wings contain both meat, and dairy – Buffalo sauce is about half butter – and are usually fried. Three strikes. All I could do was stare longingly at my friend’s Buffalo wings as I sat in the bar with my cohort, drinking my cup of water. All the while my stomach is screaming at me ‘Why!? Why are you doing this to me!? WHY!?’

All that to say, since that night I’ve been craving Buffalo wings, but I’ve got two more weeks to go with this diet. Two more weeks in this meatless, cheeseless vegetable desert. It’ll be worth it though. I’ve done this before, and I know that at the end, I will feel so incredibly healthy. It will be good, even though I have to give up Buffalo wings for while.

Anyway, Fast forward a couple days to me lying in bed, and an idea pops into my brain. I’ll bet I can make a buffalo sauce without using butter. And I can’t have chicken, but I can have potatoes! So I determined myself to find a way to make vegan Buffalo potato wedges.

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And I did. Instead of using butter, what I ended up doing was using butter beans. If you’ve never seen these, they are large pale beans that, when they’re heated up, the insides become very squishy, almost like butter. They’ve got a very nice, almost creamy texture. So I boiled them in some water, mashed them with a fork, and strained out all the bean skins. What I was left with was a kind of sloppy, cream-like bean paste. Add a bit of vinegar, a good amount of Frank’s RedHot, and some seasoning and bring it to a simmer. Boom. Butter-less Buffalo sauce!  Add a green pepper and guac salad to go along with it. That’s a good lunch right there!

When it was all said and done, the sauce was more like a paste, but the flavor was dead on. I was craving Buffalo wings, but my alternative – vegan Buffalo potato wedges – kicked that cravings ass!

If you’d like to try your hand at this, you can find the recipe on the Recipes page.

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A Vegatarian Adventure

Some friends and are in the middle of a three week cleanse diet. There’s more to it than just that, but for the sake of brevity, it’s a diet. Basically, the only thing we’re allowing ourselves to eat is fruits, vegetables, and unleavened whole grains. It’s like a vegan diet, but a bit more strict.

This diet actually comes from the Good Book. In the Old Testament, the Jewish prophet Daniel was confronted with a dilemma. He was serving in captivity in the Babylonian king’s court, but the food that he was given to eat was not kosher – pork and fatty meats and whatnot. So Daniel challenged the dude who was in charge of making sure he was fed and kept well to give him and his friends nothing but fruits and vegetables, or more accurately, only food that comes up from the ground – plants – and after three weeks judge which diet was the best. It says that after three weeks, Daniel and his jewish companions were much more healthy and strong than their Babylonian counterparts.

Anyway, we’re at the beginning of week two. Being a guy who really likes meat, I’m surprised at how much I don’t miss it. It turns out that if you try, you can make a delicious and satisfying meal from plants alone.

In the next couple weeks, I’ll try to post a few delicious recipes that I’ve come up with, so you can try them out for yourself!

Here’s The Deal…

So here’s the skinny on what’s going on here.

A short while ago, I was challenged by a good friend of mine, who basically told me in a round about way that I’ve got a lot to share, a lot to give, and I’m just sitting on it. This really made me think. So I went about trying to figure out some ways in which I could give away what I’ve been given.

There’s a principle that says, where your passions, talents and opportunities intersect, that’s the place where you will thrive and make a lasting and significant impact on the world around you. I love to cook, I love to do life with people, and I love to write.  Here I have a platform from which to share all of this. Whether it’s a new recipe, an experience, or a reflection on this life I find myself in the middle of, I am setting out to share it all with you!

There will be more to come. But for now, let me leave you with the same challenge I encountered. You – yes YOU – have a lot to share with the people around you.  Where do your passions, talents, and opportunities intersect?  What are you doing about it?