Thursday, May 10, 2018

Three Weeks until Amsterdam

I came back from a great holiday in San Francisco and Portland – full of dear family, wonderful friends and fantastic food – on Tuesday morning. I learned that Portland and Oregon is a healthy breadbasket for the PNW, which is why it's such a foodie town. My friend, Gerald, drove me around the farms of the Oregon High Desert and we drove past lavender farms and saw hazelnut trees is the distance. For tokens of the trip, I brought back chocolate-covered hazelnuts for my co-workers and LaDiDa Lavender Cheddar for me.

I red-eyed into JFK and, while en route, I picked up two sausage, egg and cheese English muffins from Tom Horton’s in New York’s Penn Station since they were two for four dollars; had one on the train and saved the next one for breakfast the following day. It's all about taking advantage of my behavior but being better.

I had cleared out the refrigerator of all the perishable items before I set off on my eleven-day trek, so I came home to limited items of food in my freezer.

Yet I had some leftover Lentil Chickpea Curry, a vegan recipe that Leigh Ann introduced me to, and some leftover baby new Yukon gold potatoes that I had made for a Salade niçoise I had brought to Bookclub. I had put them together in the same container for moments like this, when I was too tired to shop and cook.

In being forward thinking, I found a stash of my chili and another stash of my butter chicken. I put them in the fridge to thaw. On Wednesday night, I boiled up some lentils in broth and split the chili between two meals – dinner on Wednesday and lunch on Thursday. I’ll repeat for Thursday night and Friday day with the butter chicken and more lentils.

Now my freezer is getting bare, but I noticed a stash of kale and collard green stems that I was saving. I read up on how to utilize these veggies and the idea of pesto came up.

The ideas are endless for me: pasta and pesto, pesto in a frittata, pesto as a meat marinade, a compound butter with pesto for beef, chicken salad with pesto, pesto as a sandwich condiment and so on.

So, now is the time to critically and strategically plan healthy meals. I will be heading up to Newark in three-week times for my trip to Amsterdam (and London, Berlin and Paris). I need to buy groceries but I don’t want to over-purchase, especially since I want to visit the Thursday-night farmers market that’s been open since March (but haven’t visited except the second Thursday it was open.) I’m looking at the 21 cycles of meals until I leave and I’m planning ahead to spend money wisely and to stop food waste.

Also, I want to make an asparagus and grilled cheese sandwich with the lovely LaDiDa Lavender Cheddar – of course I sampled a slice on Tuesday when I got home. It was good and I thought it would be excellent melted on top of some grilled asparagus on a crusty bread.

Now I have two ideas for meals – pesto and its permutations as well as vegetables + Lavender Cheddar grilled cheese.

While I’ll have butter chicken and lentils for dinner, I’m going to make the Winter Greens Pesto from the kitchn with my embellishments tonight.

Kale and Collards Pesto

  • ½ cp chopped almonds
  • Around 4 cps kale and collards greens stems, trimmed, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 cp shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or any other similar hard, granular cheese
  • ½ cp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 t lemon juice
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  1. If the almonds are not already roasted, preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven until they are brown and fragrant, check after 5 minutes.
  2. Blanche the greens: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Prepare a large bowl of cold water ready. When boiling, drop the greens into the water. Allow the water to return to a boil, and after 90 seconds, check every 30 seconds until the greens are just starting to go limp. Drain the greens and plunge them into the cold water. Drain again and then dry the greens to remove as much moisture as possible.
  3. Place the almonds, greens, Parmigiano, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a blender and puree until uniformly smooth, adding more olive oil to reach desired consistency.
I can't wait to see what the Farmer's Market has today!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Easy Kale Salad

A vegan meal: kale salad and rice
cooked in jalapeño and cilantro broth
One of my favorite way to use up green vegetables is to add them to this great kale salad that I found on the LIVESTRONG site many years ago. This particular batch, in the photo below, was made with kale and celery I saved from the crudité platter that gave me the mirepoix for my ragù yesterday. I made it earlier in the week for my Lenten vegan challenge (see the note about brown sugar and water in the ingredients list) and knew that I should finish it up before it started to turn. Not only is this a great vegan dish, it is also a great base for a substantive meal salad, add a protein and another vegetable and it’s a filling lunch or dinner.

The original recipe is far more Asian in influence, while mine is strictly based on what I usually have in my pantry. Plus, the original site says that the salad serves 6; it could, especially if the diners are not former ruggers. But for the real world, I think that more satisfyingly serves 2.

Easy Kale Salad, adapted from LIVESTRONG’s Nutty Kale Salad, serves 2

I added 3 oz. of leftover turkey & a roasted beet cubed
to make the base salad into something more filling.
  • 4 ½ cps. kale, about 2 bunches, and add or use other greens to make 4 ½ cps., if you desire, like chard, collards, bok choy, mustard, spinach, arugula, endive, radicchio, beet greens, turnip greens, carrots greens and radish greens, as well as celery 
  • ¼ cp. peanut butter, (I suggest chunky!) 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup or honey, (in a pinch to keep it vegan, use 1 Tbsp. each of water and brown sugar) 
  • 2 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce 
  • ¼ cp. apple cider vinegar 
  • 1 tsp ground cumin 
  • 1 tsp ground chili powder or pepper (optional)
  1. De-vein kale and other hearty greens, like collards, first, and stack the greens on top of each other and roll into a tube; make 1/8-inch cuts along the length of the tube, creating thin ribbons. (If using celery, slice into small bite size pieces) 
  2. Reserve the greens in a large bowl. 
  3. Combine remaining ingredients, whisking until smooth. (This makes a great salad dressing separate from this salad.) 
  4. Pour dressing over kale and toss thoroughly to coat all leaves. Allow to sit 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator, before serving to soften the kale and any other hardy greens.

Ragù alla Bolognese

What we call Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna. Per Wikipedia, the sauce is “customarily used to dress ‘tagliatelle al ragù’ and to prepare ‘lasagne alla bolognese’. In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine.” The traditional version of this sauce is slow cooked, requiring to “simmer slowly for about two hours,” from Accademia Italiana della Cucina (in Italian and authentication required), not including prep time. Many recipes start with an Italian soffritto - a base of finely chopped parsley and onion sauteed in lard - but I went with a mirepoix and added bell peppers instead. Of course, there is beef and usually some fatty pork (which I didn’t include this time.) White wine, milk and a small amount of tomato paste or tomatoes are added to incorporate everything together before the long simmer to produce a thick sauce.

I made this as part of my #stopfoodwaste New Year’s resolution. The sauce was actually in itself a by-product of another dish, Stir-Fried Celery with Meat Sauce, which only required a quarter pound of beef.

While the meat was defrosted for the celery dish and the remaining beef was used in this dish, the carrots, celery and tomatoes were saved from a crudité platter.

Ragù alla Bolognese, adapted from Blue Apron, serves 4.

I couldn't resist and added capers. Also, I only
had whole wheat fettuccine in the house.
  • 1 Tbps olive oil 
  • ¾ lbs ground beef 
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced, to taste 
  • ½ cp carrot, diced 
  • ½ cp celery, diced 
  • ½ cp onion, diced 
  • ½ cp bell pepper, diced 
  • 4 cps grape or cherry tomatoes 
  • Tagliatelle, or other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine 
  • 2 tsp dried basil 
  • ¼ cp white wine 
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste 
  • 2 Tbsps milk 
  • 1 tsp lemon juice 
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
  • ¼ cp grated parmigiano cheese 

  1. In a large pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high until hot. Add the ground beef; cook, frequently breaking the meat apart with a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. 
  2. Add the garlic, carrot, celery, onion and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes, or until softened and fragrant. 
  3. Add the tomatoes; cover with a lid to steam, 5 minutes or so, or until the tomatoes are easily smashed with a spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 6 minutes, or incorporate thoroughly. 
  4. Cook the pasta according to directions, until al dente, about 10 minutes or so. Turn off the heat. Reserving ¾ cup of the pasta cooking water, drain thoroughly and return to the pot. While waiting on the pasta, add half of the basil to the sauce and stir to incorporate. 
  5. After the pasta is cooked and set aside; deglaze the pan with white wine and stir to incorporate into the sauce. 
  6. Add the tomato paste, sauce and half the reserved pasta cooking water to the pot of cooked pasta. Cook on medium-high, stirring vigorously, 1 to 2 minutes, or until well combined. (If the sauce seems dry, gradually add the remaining pasta cooking water to achieve your desired consistency.)
  7. Turn off the heat. Stir in the milk, lemon juice and remaining basil; season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  8. Divide between 4 dishes and garnish with cheese. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pork and Sauerkraut

As I started this year out with my new New Year’s ritual of eating the Scottish traditional steak pie served up with the customary lucky collard greens and black eyed peas of the South and soul food, I’m ending 2016 with a rich recipe for pork and sauerkraut: Beer Braised Country Style Pork Ribs and Sauerkraut with Jägermeister Reduction.

While most of my lineage is Irish, there is a part of me that is German. Philadelphia was the entry way for many a German immigrant and their mark has been left on the city – the German “s” for example* in the Philadelphia accent of English. If you don’t have any German heritage, you may still have some German traditions if you hail from this area of the country. The big one is having pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Eve.Eating sauerkraut on New Year's Eve is a long-standing tradition in Germany because Germans believed that eating sauerkraut will bring blessings and wealth for the New Year. Before the meal, those seated at the table wish each other as much goodness and money as the number of shreds of cabbage in the pot of sauerkraut.

Adding to that tradition, the pig has long been a symbol for good luck and well-being because they root in the ground while moving forward. Plus, they’re fat – a universal symbol of prosperity. Therefore, many people believe that eating a meal with pork will bring luck in the coming New Year. Such meals include pork schnitzel, Bratwurst made with pork, any kind of wurst made with pork, pork roast and so on.

I tackled the idea of having some pork and sauerkraut in my home. I didn’t look up any recipes but instead looked up the essence of German cuisine: the use of caraway seeds, bay leaf and dill, plus the omission of garlic in the dishes. I knew that I was going to braise the pork, therefore I was going to use beer. I went to the store and picked up some supplies, include potatoes to roast as an accompaniment and sauerkraut, because I don’t have that on hand. I was all really to cook and add caraway seeds to my concoction, but I didn’t have them.So I searched for “caraway seeds substitutions” and that brought me to The Cook’s Thesaurus which suggested anise seed or cumin seeds in lieu of caraway.

Beer Braised Country Style Pork Ribs and Sauerkraut with Jägermeister Reduction, serves 4

All ready for New Year's Eve
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 ¼ to 1 ½ lbs country style pork rib**, cut into individual portion sizes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • cumin powder, to taste
  • ½ T anise seeds (or fennel seeds)
  • 2 lbs of sauerkraut (roughly: either one 2lb bag or two 14.5oz cans) with the liquid
  • 12 oz bottle of beer (I also suggest a Christmas or winter style if making it for New Year’s Eve – I used 21st Amendment’s Fireside Chat, a Winter Spiced Ale.)
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ t thyme
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • ½ T olive oil
  • 2 shots (3 oz) Jägermeister
  • pinch of salt

  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot; sauté the most of the onion (save about 1-2 T for the reduction) until translucent, about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Generously season the pork ribs on all sides with salt, pepper and cumin. Add the ribs and sear all pieces on all sides, about two minutes or so each side.
  3. Add the anise seed to the pot to toast and wait for them to get fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the sauerkraut, beer and apple cider vinegar; season with the thyme and bay leaves and mix together.
  5. Bring to a boil; when at a boil, immediately reduced the heat to a simmer and let cook for an hour at least.
  6. Soon before serving, mince the remaining onion to ensure smaller pieces.
  7. Add olive oil to a small skillet and heat; sauté the onion until translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
  8. Add Jägermeister to the small skillet and deglaze; set on a medium heat to reduce to half to quarter of the volume then stir in salt.
  9. Remove the ribs from the pot and plate; top each rib with the Jägermeister reduction.
  10. Remove the bay leaves and serve up the sauerkraut with the pork, including the braising liquid.

As I said above, potatoes are an easy starch accompaniment to the dish. Roast, mash, fry or what have you to cook them to ensure that they can help sop up the braising liquid, which I treat just like pot likker. When the potatoes are gone, make sure you have some good bread to help out, too.

*The German “S” is when the sibilant /s/ is palatalized to [ʃ] (as in she) before /tr/. Thus, the word streets [ˈstɹits] is pronounced "shtreets" [ˈʃtɹits].

** As the article in the link explains, this cut is not from the rib, but a budget friendly portion of the loin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Trying out the perks of Marriott Rewards in NYC

It's been a while since I wrote on my blog; I know. In that time, I’ve been to NYC, SFO, WAS, ARB (via DTW), MSP and back to CHI in the months since my last post.

What I want to write about though is an upcoming trip to New York for a family event. In particular, I wanted to talk about the hotel room that I reserved for my overnight this Saturday into Sunday.

I had just read the Points Guy’s post about the news that, as of September 23, status match, points transfer and more are now available between SPG and Marriott Rewards. So I linked my accounts and read on.

From the blog, I was inspired to see what kind of free room I could get for Saturday into Sunday night – leveraging the benefits of the merger between Starwood and Marriott. I searched on points on both and found a $662 room available for 40,000 points on Marriott. I transferred 10,000 points from SPG at a 1:3 transfer rate to add to my already existing 10,944. (My 10,000 SPG points became 30,000 Marriott points.)

With a new total of 40,944 points in my account, I reserved a room at the New York EDITION. I hope to reap the perks of now being gold in both loyalty programs, especially my beloved 4pm check out.

The hotel looks nice, eh?

Photo from

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day

It was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day on April 12. I didn’t know about it until the morning, however I was fortunate enough to have bread and cheese in my house.

I wasn’t even looking for any inspiration for my Grilled Cheese, because butter, bread and cheese are like getting three stars in Candy Crush Soda Saga. Anything is just extra.

However I stumbled upon this video in my facebook feed, How to Make a New Jersey Grilled Cheese, from I was serendipitously inspired for I had scrapple at home.

This isn’t going to be a recipe but just a story about making a wee labor of love.

I came home from work and took down my iron skillet, turned on the burner to high and let it heat up. I returned to the refrigerator and took out butter, extra sharp cheddar, Colman's mustard and scrapple. After returning to the stove with my cold goodies, I lowered the heat to medium-high and added a pat of butter to the skillet to watch it melt. I snuck back to the pantry and grabbed my loaf of whole wheat bread.

I prepared the cheese, shaving off thick slices for the sandwich. I ended up with two pieces of cheese per slice of bread. This was going to be cheesy. I continued slicing as I worked off two pieces of scrapple about an 1/8th of an inch thick. I added them to the skillet and let them cook, wanting them to crisp up as crunchy as possible.

I distracted myself from the cooking scrapple and in turn letting it come close to charring by taking my last remaining of yellow cherry tomatoes from some salads earlier in the week. I knew they would make a wonderful addition to the sandwich. I checked on the scrapple after washing the tomatoes and flipped the slices once. I went ahead and cut the tomatoes into four mini slices to sprinkle in the middle of my sandwich.

Finally the scrapple was a warm brown hue and stiff as a board when I lifted it out of the skillet. I turned the heat of the skillet down to medium. I sat my pieces on paper towel to collect the butter oil.

I opened the store bought bread and I took each slice and buttered them on one side, while adding an additional pat of butter to the skillet. When all four slices were buttered, I placed them butter side down and slathered mustard on the exposed sides of the bread. Immediately, I topped the mustard with the cheese – again two slices of cheddar for slide of bread. There was a lot of waiting involved in making these sandwiches. I covered the skillet with a lid to encourage the cheese to melt. I had to wait two to three minutes until the cheese transformed from an immovable solid to a gooey liquid about to lose its form. At that moment, I added the tomatoes to two slices of bread and the remaining scrapple to the other two pieces.

I reached for the spatula and flipped the tomato-topped bread slice onto the scrapple-topped slice and pressed them together with the back of my kitchen tool. I flipped them once to see the other side and reveled at the darkening brown of the toast. I was still on this side of burning it.

I removed the sandwiches from the skillet and paused for a beat before slicing into the them diagonally. The cheese melted and slowly dripped out of the bread. I could not wait anymore.

I lifted a piece up to my mouth and enjoyed National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. 

Then I thought, how in God's name in my 43 years on earth did it never occur to me to fry up some scrapple and put it in my grilled cheese?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

End Dry January in Chicago

I went to Chicago on a whim to get out of Philadelphia.  I was thinking about going to New York, but I realized that Chicago was going to be cheaper. (FYI, there’s a 3-day sale on Amtrak for Philly to New York or to Boston; I'm buying a ticket.)

I've never traveled to Chicago solo before. I was always traveling with others or to visit friends; for rugby or once for work. However, I took advantage of my familiarity with the city and explored some of the great places that Chicago has. 

Tripe, Chorizo and Tongue tacos
I flew into Midway on Southwest and immediately headed to my hotel, Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago. The hotel was only a 3 1/2 block walk from the Loop. While Loop tends to shut down for the weekend, there was a 24-hours Dunkin Donuts two blocks away should you need it. There was a Walgreen open until midnight, five blocks away. 

I hopped on line and researched bars for the evening. I ended up chatting with a local who suggested the SoFo Tap to me. I called for an über and went up to Andersonville for the night. I entered the bar and it seemed familiar, like I may have been there for a rugby drink up years ago. I wasn't sure. It was a fun bar - I liked the music, as soon as I walked in there was Taylor Swift and the next song was Miles Cyrus - but the beer selection was mundane.

It was about 12:30 am and the crowd thinned out and I explored two more Andersonville bars, having only a drink at each, before calling it a night.  However, while waiting for the 22 bus to take me back to the Loop, I noticed the Taqueria El Chorrito at the corner. The minor buzz of customers coming out of the restaurant caught my attention and drew me in. There were several types of offal meat available as taco. At 1 something in the morning after drinking for the first time in 29 days (My Dry January), offal tacos sounded wonderful. In fact, they were superb and that wasn't the beer talking! 

The view, South
103 stories above Wacker Drive.

I returned to my hotel and prepared some Pedialyte before bed. The next thing I know is that it's about 8:30 am. I'm determined to get to the Willis Tower when it opens. All the reviews I've read suggested getting there, first thing, before the rest of the tourists crowds arrive. 

It's the best piece of advice that I got for this trip. I was there at 9:50 am and they were letting people up just before the 10:00 am opening. I pre-purchased my ticket and already had it printed out at the hotel. I bypassed a few curves of the stanchioned line and rose to the 103rd floor.

Others in the Ledge
The view was wonderful. The day was sunny, yet there were clouds in the sky. It didn't hinder the visibility. I quickly headed over to the Ledge, a glass balcony extending four feet outside Willis Tower directly above Wacker Drive and the Chicago River. This addition provides a glimpse below, unobstructed. 

I took an über from where I was staying in the Loop up to the Mag Mile, to The Tremont Chicago Hotel at Magnificent Mile. I recall the Magnificent Mile as the location of the Omni Hotel, where “guests of the Oprah Winfrey Show stay.” It’s so much more than that. I’m sure that Second City may shrug at this comparison, but Michigan Avenue feels like New York’s Fifth Avenue with a lot more breathing room. A wide boulevard with high end shopping – the Burberry store, for example, is clad with an onyx cage interpretation of its hallmark tartan – and tourists and Chicagoan bustling alike. The area was always busy and the Tremont is so close to many Chicago landmarks and points of interest. 

My room and the John Hancock Center through the window
I get settled in my room and there are two windows, one facing north and the other east. I threw the roman shades up to get some light in. The north-facing window over looked a parking out. I drew up the shade of the east-facing window and I felt like I was on “Let’s Make a Deal” picking door number 3 which was the new car, I had a view of the Mag Mile and the John Hancock Center in front of me. Winner, winner! 

I figure out my plans for the rest of my day into evening, in no particular order: lunch, nap, dinner and drinks. I head out and leisurely stroll and window shop along Michigan Avenue and I found an Armenia restaurant, Sayat Nova. I ordered three mezes: jajic, tourshee and lamajoun. The jajic is a fresh cucumber salad with yogurt, dill and mint with a little bit of olive oil. The tourshee is a combination of vegetables: onions, carrots, celery, cabbage, cauliflower and hot peppers pickled with with malt vinegar. The lamajoun is a flat bread with topped minced beef, herbs, onions and parsley which is then baked like a pizza. It was a delicious treat for a day of tourists attractions and shopping.

Jajic and tourshee
Sai oua and larb gai

I returned to the Tremont, took a bath and settled in for a nap, a disco nap. After some more recon, I mapped out my path: Silver Spoon Thai Restaurant for dinner, Second Story Bar and either Sidetrack in Boystown or Big Chicks in Andersonville - or both.

I feasted on sai oua - a grilled pork sausage from northern Thailand containing minced pork meat, herbs, spices and red curry paste - and larb gai - a Lao minced meat salad also popular in Northern Thailand served with fish sauce, lime juice, chili, mint, shaved carrots, shredded cabbage and sprouts. (For those playing at home, larb is what I tried to make the day I went into the hospital for my appendix.) 

A view of the Second Story Bar
I can't explain it - a T. Rex with a diamond choker collar

Between dinner and the bars, I sought out a drink at the Second Story Bar, so named because it is the only business on the second floor of its building, which so happens to be where my Armenia restaurant is.  I ordered a local brew, Anti-Hero IPA by Revolution Brewing Company, and took in the eclectic scene. This is a bar that I would come back to, again and again.

I nursed my two drinks to take in the atmosphere. It was a mash up of styles and eras. Christmas decorations were still up and I would bet that they had been up there for years. An assortment of gay flags and symbols adorn the walls as well as advertisements for national beer chains and local sports teams paraphernalia. It was edgy but warm. Yet it was getting later in the evening and I wanted to get out of Near North Side.

Chicago River
Crown Fountain

I took the bus up to Big Chicks and found an equally but differently eclectic bar for me to stay awhile. I ordered the Goose Island 312, which I remember having at a rugby drink up many years ago. I had drank enough of the them that I started to call the beer a 215. The alcohol impaired my memory - I knew it was named after an area code, but I couldn't remember which one. Again, I took in the crowd. The TV were playing videos until someone turned on the Mighty Boosh, an British comedy television show eponymously named for the British comedy troupe who created it. It was wacky. Needless to say, I finished my night here. 

Cloud Gate
 I took my time on Sunday to enjoy the time that I had remaining in Chicago, relaxing in bed. Eventually, I needed to check out. Thanks to the Starwood Preferred Guest, I didn't have to check out until 4pm.  My flight home wasn’t until 9pm.

I finally strolled down to the Cloud Gate in Millennium Park and spent an hour taking in the city.  In my back pocket was my last visit of the trip - to head up to Clark and Division to go to Chicago q. In everything thing I read – yelp, travelzoo, gaycities –  Chicago q always had 5 star reviews. 

I love barbecue and the day had turned grey and rainy, so some barbecue would take the edge off. I enter the quiet spot and was greeted with a smile and question, “One, today?” I affirmed her inquiry. After striking up a rapport with the bartender, Pat, I order a BBq Flight: brisket, pulled pork and brisket meatballs and a whiskey from Utah. Pat also set me up with the house bread and butter pickles and potato chips with their St. Louis ribs dry rub. The brisket was good, but the brisket meatballs were better. However, the barbecued pork was amazing. I thanked Pat for his suggestions and paid my tab. I slowly walked back to the L to start my trek to O’Hare, full as a tick. 
My Dinner at Chicago q

Finally, I arrive at the airport, pleased to have had such a fun weekend. I had prepared this entire trip on the premise that I was taking Spirit Airlines home. I was pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Casey’s Vegan Chili

It's Lent and chili is one of my favorite food.  I have been working on a vegan version to have for meatless Fridays and other reasons.  I've tried about five or six versus until I settled in on this one. In the end I wanted a chili that felt as filling as one con carne versus having the same exact texture. Chili, for me, must "stick to the ribs." That is the source of comfort for me.

In my quest for a vegan chili, I made sure that I never started it with a mirepoix. I'm not a champion for carrots in my chili; it's my personal pet peeve.  You may find it odd that that is what drives me. However, I searched for the appropriate base for this meal and centered in on a vegetable base of onion, garlic and peppers which is more of a Spanish nod. While I know kale isn't really a Mexican ingredient, the baby blue squash is. Yet if you can't find that squash, any zucchini or summer squash will do. I wanted to stick with more authentic vegetables, so I added the jalapeño to the mix since that pepper is a chili. Be warned, this recipe has some residual heat from the jalapeño.

Also I'm serious about chopping the kale as finely as possible; the smaller the pieces the more dense the chili feels.


Serving suggestion
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1½ cps onions, chopped (one large onion)
  • 3 cps peppers, chopped (2 large peppers)
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped 
  • 8 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 lbs kale, chopped as small as possible
  • 2 cps baby blue squash, cubed (one large squash)
  • 5 T chili powder 
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 t dried basil
  • ½ t dried oregano
  • ½ t dried thyme
  • ½ t salt, or to taste 
  • ½ t black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 6 oz tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz crushed tomatoes with added puree
  • 1 14½ -oz vegetable broth
  • 1 12 oz beer 
  • 3 15.5 oz cans of beans, drained if desired
  1. Heat a large sauce pan, dutch oven, etc. over medium heat; add the oil and heat through. Stir in the onion, garlic, peppers and jalapeño; cook until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.
  2. Sauté the kale, about 1/3 of the kale a time, until about 1/3 of the original volume, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Add the cubed squash and continue to sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. Add chili powder, cumin, basil, oregano, thyme, salt and black pepper, and cook until the aroma is released, about 1-2 minutes more.
  5. Mix in tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, broth and beer. (Start with the paste first, mixing well into the kale – it helps to get the paste distributed into the other liquids.)
  6. Bring to a boil, then add the beans.
  7. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened to desired consistency, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, about 1 hour 15 minutes or longer.
  8. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
So I played around with this recipes and I like to use a variety of beans in my chili. Another helpful hint is to buy a 12 oz can of tomato paste, then use half and freeze the remaining. I tend to make chili and butter chicken in close proximity in time so the remaining paste is never in the freeze for too long.

Lastly, like the sugo alla puttanesca, this is a great braising liquid - especially for pork - which is such a Tex-Mex protein. I brown the pork on all sides and top with 1/2 cup of chili per 1/4 pound of meat - adding additional water, wine or broth to thin the sauce out if needed, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, and let simmer for at least an hour.