Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dueling Black Bean Salsas

I posted a recipe for a black bean salsa the other day, and in response to that, I got a recipe for a similar black bean salsa, but this one has avocado. And I LOVE avocado. I haven't made this yet, but it looks delicious. It also has tomato in it, and as I had mentioned before, it's nice to have a salsa option without tomato sometimes too. This one also requires more chopping, so that is a consideration. If you are looking for a really easy recipe, I'd go with Black Bean Salsa #1. I will post this so you can have options, and choose which you think you might like best.

Black Bean and Avocado Salsa

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 1/2 tblsp sugar
1/2 tblsp of Hot Sauce (ex. Franks, Tabasco)

1 14 oz. can white corn, drained
1 14 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 bell peppers diced (green, red, yellow or orange)
1/8 cup minced scallions
1 avocado, diced
l large tomato, diced

1. Mix the dressing ingredients and let sit.
2. Mix all the salsa ingredients except for the avocado and tomato. Add the dressing and mix.
3. Wait until you are ready to serve the salsa, and chop the avocado at the last minute. Add the avocado and tomato.

Swiss Chard with Cannellini Beans and Tomatoes

My mom made this for me the last time I was visiting with my parents. I am always looking for ways to incorporate more swiss chard and kale into my diet, so I plan to try this soon. I have to admit, I recently bought some swiss chard to put into a minestrone soup I was making, and ended up throwing the rest out because I couldn't come up with anything good to do with it, and I had forgotten about this recipe. Swiss chard or kale sauteed with garlic and cannellini beans is a very common recipe, but the addition of the tomatoes and crushed red pepper give it a nice kick. I think this would be good served over pasta.

Swiss Chard with Cannellini Beans and Tomatoes
1 bunch of swiss chard
2 tblsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tspn crushed red pepper
1 tblsp tomato paste
2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped (some canned diced tomatoes would work also)
1 14 oz. can cannellini beans
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large sauce pan, bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil
2. Rinse chard thoroughly. Cut off the stems at the base of the leaves. Slice the leaves crosswise into 1 inch wide strips.
3. Drop the chard into boiling water. Cover and when the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and simmer the chard for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain in a colander.
4. In a large skillet, heat 1 tblsp of the olive oil with garlic and red pepper over medium heat. Stir constantly for 2 minutes, until the garlic begins to turn golden. Immediately stir in the tomato paste. Stir constantly for 1 minute more.
5. Add the tomatoes, turn the heat to high, and stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes to soften the tomatoes. Add the beans and the chard. Continue cooking over medium high heat for 3 minutes more.
6. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir in the other tblsp of olive oil. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer for 2 more minutes.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

It seems most holiday feasts are filled with startchy heavy sorts of side dishes, vs. light or "crisp" types of veggies. So, after several of these kinds of meals over this holiday week, I find myself craving green things. I just had to make a stop on my drive home from Maine to get a salad with raw spinach. I couldn't get it into me fast enough. Where we stopped, by the way, was this little burrito place we love in Portsmouth, NH. They have great add-in selections and also have burritos in a bowl, which is what I had tonight. While we make our own version of a taco salad that I've talked about before, I got some new ideas tonight to spiff it up a bit. The burrito place is Dos Amigos and you should try it if you're there.

I often try to bring a big green salad to these occasions, which I did to one of my holiday gatherings, and I've decided to make that my standard dish to bring because I miss it when it's not there. I also tried a new appetizer that I liked - a tomato-less salsa. It was a fun alternative to the ho-hum tomato salsa. A friend at work, Doug, had made it for a potluck, and I liked it so much I had to give it a try. It is super easy to make, it seemed to go over well, and a couple of people asked for the recipe, so here it is:

Black Bean Corn Salsa
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of shoepeg corn, drained (I think this variety is sweeter which is why it's used. I may try regular yellow corn to see how that goes)
1 bunch of scallions, peeled and minced - white parts only
feta cheese to taste (optional, but is very yummy) use at least 1/4 cup

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup extra light olive oil or canola oil
1/2 tspn garlic powder (or more to taste)
salt and pepper.

1 bag of scoop tortilla chips (these work best because the salsa is so chunky)

1. Mix salsa ingredients in bowl.
2. Mix dressing and add to salsa.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tofu for Sandwiches

I admit it- I can be a tad "bah humbugh-ish" regarding Christmas. It's really just a yearly Consumer Olympics. Retailers and shoppers alike perform all kinds of special feats to sell and buy. It's not that I don't like gift giving. I do. I just don't like it in mass quantities. Getting ready for Christmas becomes a series of a million different errands and chores, and I really don't like doing errands or chores- driving from here to there; in and out of the car; sitting in traffic; waiting in lines; making a lot of different decisions about what to get and where to get it; writing out cards; putting up lights and decorations. And the whole thing just gets so out of hand. When you're buying gifts for someone that maybe you don't spend that much time with, and really have no idea what they want, but you have to get them something so you get them a gift card, or you have to buy a generic gift for that Yankee Swap at the party you're going to, it kind of loses all it's meaning, doesn't it? If we really need this holiday to keep our retailers in business and keep the economy healthy, then I vote that it becomes mandatory that we only buy gifts for kids ages 18 and under, donate some clothes and food to a local shelter or family that is really in need, and we all go out in the month of December and buy ourselves a few things we've been wanting.

It is, however, great fun to find just the right gift for someone, and maybe something they wouldn't have bought for themselves, or vice versa to open a gift that you love, that someone picked out especially for you. And not something that you sent them the information for and told them exactly where to get it when they asked you what you wanted for Christmas. Something that they saw, and because they know you well, they knew you'd enjoy it.

I know I sound like an unthankful, horrible person, so it's a good thing no one reads my blog. I do appreciate all the gifts that my friends and family buy for me. And I think the idea of Santa Claus and creating that story for children is really a lot of fun. We have this big secret that everyone above the age of 10 is in on. It's great that we can keep that going. What frustrates me is the societal pressure around Christmas, and people doing things and spending money and going through the motions of certain traditions because they feel they have to do these things, even if they can't afford it and/or it causes a lot of stress for them.

Perhaps I would miss Christmas and all the hoopla if we were to no longer have it. It's not that I want to get back to the true meaning of Christmas, because I'm not a religious person. I just want to slow it down a bit, both in terms of pace and consumption. I heard somewhere recently that the average American consumes something like 700,000 calories in a year, and half of those calories are consumed from Thanskgiving to the New Year. Gross. And let me tell you, I've had my share of calories this month. (The aforementioned cookie swap really did me in.) Maybe something more along the lines of a Winter Solstice celebration with a little Santa mixed in would work for me.

A couple of weekends ago, I took the T into Harvard Square and roamed around the artisan fair they were having there, and poked in and out of stores. I did enjoy myself there without the traffic and mall parking lots. And I got a few gifts that I'm excited to give to people. I also got a great recipe. At one point, I was standing at an earring booth for about an hour staring at stuff. I finally felt compelled to tell the owner of the booth that I was not trying to steal anything, but that I was trying to choose gifts for four different people, and I was starving, so having a tough time. Instead of just nodding his head or something, he instead said, "You know, I'm hungry too. What are you hungry for?" I thought about it but couldn't come up with anything specific. He proceeded to describe the most delicious sounding sandwich to me which included tofu! I then asked him questions about how his tofu was cooked, and came home and made it immediately so I wouldn't forget. I ended up eating it, not on a sandwich, but on it's own, and really enjoyed it.
Anyway, I'm off to do some more Christmas shopping...

Fried Tofu with Nutritional Yeast
1 block of tofu, pressed to get most of the water out, and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 cup soy sauce or Bragg's liquid aminos in a bowl
1/2 cup nutritional yeast in a bowl
1/4 cup canola oil

1. Dredge each slice of tofu in the soy sauce, and then in the nutritional yeast.
2. Sautee in oil on medium to medium high heat until brown on both sides.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chocolatey Pumpkin Bars

When someone brought up the idea of doing a cookie swap for our departmental holiday celebration at work, I immediately resisted. But mostly everyone else thought it was a fabulous idea, so I relinquished, and tried to get myself in the holiday baking spirit. I also decided that a cookie swap was much better than a Yankee Swap (I hate those things), and that I should embrace the idea.

At first, I tried to think of a creative way that I could turn chips and salsa into a dessert item, since my chip and salsa addiction is well known amongst my co-workers. But, I couldn't figure out a way to make that work. Then, I thought of a dessert item I realized many years ago I could make pretty easily because it required so few ingredients: macaroons. But if I recall from those days, I am one of only about 4 or 5 people who actually like macaroons (I even dipped them in chocolate). Keeping on the coconut theme, I thought this might be a good time to try making Needhams - something I only learned existed last year. My boyfriend's mother makes them each year for the holidays and they are delicious. When I saw her recently, she even gave me the recipe and all the ingredients I needed to make it. But it requires a double boiler and a lot of work, and I got intimidated. I did plan on making them before the holidays though, and I don't know if the rest of you have realized this, but Christmas is in 10 days.

Anyway, my friend Kathy had made some pumpkin bars to bring to our girls weekend recently, and I really liked them. She promised me they were easy, so I figured I'd give those a whirl. It calls for a jelly roll pan, but since I don't have one, I used a glass baking pan. Once they were in the oven, incident free, I panicked. Wouldn't a glass bake pan require a different cooking time than a metal one? (See - I have learned something from all the baked items I have ruined in my past.) So, I used one of my life lines. I checked to see if Sallie was on chat. Joy! She was. Sallie is a friend of mine who used to be a professional baker. She talked me through my situation and told me to add on a little time. I should also mention that she offered to give me the two dozen almond cookies she had that were all assembled. I could just bake them and pass them off as my own! I was momentarily tempted, but remembered I aspired to be a better baker, so I forged on with the pumpkin squares. They came out fine, and I feel a bit better about myself. Next: The Needham Project.

Chocolatey Pumpkin Bars
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup pecans, very finely chopped
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tspns baking powder
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn baking soda
1/2 tspn salt
4 large eggs, beaten
1 15 oz can 100% pure pumpkin
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup 1% lowfat milk
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (or more, if they just "happen" to spill into the bowl)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 15X10X1 baking pan (jelly roll pan).
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix all dry ingredients (except chocolate chips)
3. In another mixing bowl, beat the eggs then add all wet ingredients. Mix wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl, add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.
4. Spread the batter evenly** into the pan and cook for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
** this is important. I did not take care to really smooth it out and it looked a bit like a topographical representation of a moutainous region.