Not-So-Sloppy Tempeh Joe

November 5th, 2012 :: 23 comments :: permalink

The last time I had a sloppy joe, I was still watching the television series Alf, playing with GI Joes, and riding my bike without shoes out on the gravel trails of Fort Polk, Louisiana. I was such a picky eater growing up and, as the doctor’s growth charts alerted my mother, slightly underweight. Eating wasn’t my favorite pastime. I would much rather have ridden my bike or played in the fields.

My parents used many tricks to get me to eat. Some of them were bribes, which I think every parent tries. A lot of them were disguising my food as something else. My dad tried the “Close your eyes and you’ll get a big surprise” approach, but that only worked a few times. Sometimes they just flat out gave me what I wanted. I had the metabolism of a gazelle at that point in my life, so why not let me eat a Manwich Sloppy Joe?

Fast forward, many, many years and I am a vegetarian and no longer have the gazelle metabolism. My rendition of a sloppy joe uses tempeh, which is very hearty and has a nice grain like texture, savory veggies and toppings, a sweet tomato drizzle, and a sliced pita bread. Enjoy!

FILLING: 8 oz (1 package) chopped tempeh, half an onion, 1 large pepper or two small peppers, 4 minced garlic cloves, handful of cherry tomatoes, and a pinch of salt.

1. Put a skillet/frying pan over medium heat. Add olive olive oil and peppers. Sauté and let them soften for 5 minutes.

2. Add the chopped tempeh to the skillet (a trick to get the tempeh extra brown is to add a little soy sauce while sautéeing).

3. After the tempeh has started to brown, add the garlic, tomatoes, onions, and a pinch of salt. Cook until everything is wilted.

SAUCE: 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/4  teaspoon black pepper & 1/2 cup water.

1. In a sauce pan, mix together tomato sauce, brown sugar, salt, chili powder, black pepper & water.

2. After the sauce starts to boil, reduce the heat. Let it reduce for 5 minutes and remove from the burner.

OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: Chopped scallions, olives, sour cream & pita bread.

Toast the pita bread and carefully cut it in half from the side. You can add whatever toppings you like. If you want it more traditional, you can stick with cheddar cheese and just the sauce. I, on the other hand, enjoy savory, so I topped mine with the sweet tomato sauce mixture, olives, scallions, and sour cream.

I prefer to have the tomato sauce as a drizzle and not completely submerge the tempeh and veggies. That way I get to see all the healthy veggies I am about to eat.

Looking at all these pictures makes me want to get a second helping. I think I will.

Pro-fig-eroles

October 26th, 2012 :: 2 comments :: permalink

I’ve only seen figs in passing, but have had an admiration for this seemingly passé fruit with alien like insides. Figs alone are not very sweet… at least for someone with a major sweet tooth like myself, but I was certain I could make a sweet treat using them.

I knew I wanted to make some sort of pastry to accompany a fig sauce and I’ve always liked profiteroles. On one of my visits to Nebraska as a young child, my grandmother served me this fluffy pasty with ice cream. Even better, I learned that they ate dessert at both lunch and dinner. I was in heaven.

First preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Gather all your ingredients for the profiteroles. That’s 1/2 cup water, 1/2 stick butter, pinch of salt, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 3 eggs.

In a saucepan, combine the water, butter and salt and bring to a boil.

After it starts to boil, reduce the heat and add the flour. Stir the mixture with a good amount of force.

Once the mixture has combined completely and forms into a ball, remove the pan from heat.

Let the mixture sit for 2-3 minutes and then add the eggs one by one, mixing each egg fully into the batter before adding the next one.

Edna (my sister and helper), has strong arms from working as a cook, so she was able to stir the batter sufficiently vigorously. If you aren’t that hardcore, there is nothing wrong with using an electric mixer. Not everyone has a sister with a culinary arts degree at their disposal!

I just bought a non-stick silicone baking sheet which works great, but regular parchment paper would also have worked just fine. After filling a pastry bag with all of the batter, we took turns squeezing out little dollop shapes. You can also roll the batter into balls if you don’t want to worry about making the shapes perfectly. The dollops grow rather large once you bake them, so keep some space between each one.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until they are fluffy. Make sure they don’t burn. Cool on a rack or place the pastries on a room temperature plate to cool.

For the sauce, all you need is a handful of peeled figs, 1/4 cup of white sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 cup water, and one tablespoon of butter.

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer or a very light boil. I didn’t want the sauce to reduce too much, so I only cooked it for 5 minutes. Then remove from heat and set aside to cool.

My goal was to  create a lighter and brighter alternative to the chocolate-doused profiteroles I love. My fig sauce didn’t have the sweetness I usually get with a chocolate sauce, which was a problem for a moment, but adding a small scoop of vanilla ice cream brought everything together nicely, so that’s the way we ate them. While doing so, we talked about what to call this little project. Dustin had a good idea. Pro”fig”eroles.

Greece Honeymoon

September 21st, 2012 :: 10 comments :: permalink

On August 29, Dustin and I were married in Cork, Ireland. The day after our ceremony we ate a late breakfast with our families, grabbed a few pieces of left over wedding cake, and said our goodbyes. We set out for the airport and suddenly realized that we had very little planned for our trip to Greece. We had been thinking about our wedding so much that we didn’t really know what to expect on our honeymoon.

We arrived in Athens at midnight, short a couple of suitcases that were lost somewhere between Ireland and Greece. Unfortunately the bags we were missing contained all of Dustin’s belongings. The next morning we woke up to the noises of a busy city below us. We started our day at the Acropolis Museum and then explored the Parthenon. Dustin was still wearing the same clothing from the day before, but was in good spirits.

As designers, we were intrigued by the Parthenon and all the tricks its original architects played to correct some optical illusions and create others. Back in design school, Dustin had a professor who seemed obsessed with the Parthenon, so he enjoyed seeing all of he little details he had heard about years ago. The building was very dramatic, especially as we walked up to it from the main steps, when all of those little details worked at the same time to make the building seem impossibly large. Most amazing was that the whole thing was built thousands of years ago but is said to contain very few straight lines. Everything was made to curve slightly for optical reasons.

There was so much history in one location. We had a very knowledgeable guide for the day, who freely discussed art, Greek history, politics, the economy and immigration. Although I couldn’t absorb everything she was saying, I think the key points were: everything originates from Greece & politicians are sketchy no matter where you live. We only spent one day in Athens, but that turned out to be perfect, because we saw what we wanted to see and Santorini was next on our list.

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Wedding Gift Boxes

August 29th, 2012 :: 13 comments :: permalink

Dustin and I are getting married today in the low-key setting of the Ballyvolane House garden near Cork, Ireland. I’ve been asked quite a few times why I chose Ireland…I thought about fibbing and saying Dustin was Irish (the red hair would work in my favor). But the truth is that Dustin is marrying a crazy person.

Ever year we take one big trip. This year I thought “why not mix a vacation in with a wedding…in four months?”

Our immediate family is following us across the Atlantic to be with us on our wedding day, so I really wanted to make them something special from the two of us.

My search for ideas started by looking up boxes on Etsy. I came across some awesomely textured and weathered cigar boxes. Each box was unique in its own way. I knew I wanted to use them as the basis of my gift. Etsy has been our best friend in this whole process. After finding the boxes, I found fabric to line them to give them a vintage suitcase vibe.

I created and hand cut labels for each gift I put into the boxes. If I ever do this process again, perhaps for my sister, I will use simple square labels! I used a needle and thread to attach the labels to ribbons that I wrapped around each gift.

I created stationery with a short activity list and wedding schedule, a medieval map, and a thank you card. Since I only had to put together a few boxes I bought special paper from Neenah Paper.

I started with placing a embroidered handkerchief in the gift box with a label that read “Just in Case”. I kept one handkerchief for myself…just in case. Next, I dropped in a bag of M&M’s customized with our initials and an icon of a tree (from a stamp I originally used for our invitations). Finally, I found the cutest little chocolates that look like sardines. My dad plans to go salmon fishing while he’s in Ireland, so it seemed appropriate.

I finished by adding the stationery and closing the boxes with purple ribbons.

Special thanks go out to our families for coming all the way to Ireland with us. I also appreciate all the well wishes from our friends and extended family. You will be with us in spirit.

The next time we speak, Dustin and I will be married!

 

 

Our story so far

July 26th, 2012 :: 8 comments :: permalink

Bread Pudding with Blueberries

July 6th, 2012 :: 4 comments :: permalink

BreadPudding1_Featured

I have been craving bread pudding for a while and a recent trip to a local farmers market created the perfect opportunity to get all the necessary ingredients. I have only had bread pudding a couple of times throughout my years, but I really like the moist french toast texture and the not-too-sweet flavor. While roaming about the market, Edna (my sister) and I brainstormed how to make our own bread pudding, while Dustin ignored our sisterly rambles and giggles and tried not to get heatstroke.

This was our first time at a farmers market, so everything looked especially appealing. I was sure I wanted to use a fruit of some sort on the bread pudding to add a bit more texture and visual appeal, but with so many choices the decision was tough. I settled on wild blackberries because I still have memories of picking and eating wild berries as a child with my dad in Germany. The berries from the market seemed less tart than I remember.

Edna and I came across the most beautiful pretzel bread and started talking about different ways to use it. We weren’t a hundred percent sure how it would work out, but we wanted to try using the outer crust of the bread as an edible bowl for our pudding. We ended up buying eggs, jam, and an array of veggies and fruits. Our rule after we got home was to eat at least three fruits and veggies a day so nothing went to waste.

The recipe is pretty simple: 4 small breads, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 2 eggs (beaten), 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 cup milk, and a handful of blackberries.

The outer crust was just tough enough to keep it’s shape after we carefully tore out the soft, fluffy bread inside. In a bowl we mixed the melted butter, beaten eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and milk together with the pieces of left over bread. Then we let it sit for 5 minutes. We placed the moist bread mixture back into it’s original bread shell and tossed in some of the wild blackberries. Edna poured some of the left over liquid from the bowl on the pretzel bread shell, along with some sugar to make it a little softer and sweeter. Then we put our stuffed pretzel bowls in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Dustin lucked out this weekend and was tasked only with making the whipped cream. Everything came together perfectly and was fairly simple to make. Using the outer shell of the bread as a bowl made for easy cleanup and created another little tasty treat. Who wouldn’t love that? Who?!

Full recipe follows.

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Raw Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

June 26th, 2012 :: 12 comments :: permalink

What a busy few weeks. There have been work and personal engagements, planning for a wedding, and my sister just moved in with us for a month or two. I have still been cooking as usual, but haven’t had time to document as much as I’d like. I also need to add getting in shape to my list, because it’s crunch time (pun intended, love puns) with only a month and a half to go until our big day. I just signed up for CrossFit and a few boxing classes. I let you know how all that goes. I think I have fairly healthy eating habits, but Dustin and I both have trouble resisting our sweet tooth. Last week I was really craving something decadent, but didn’t want the guilt afterwards, so I decided to make a raw chocolate cake with raspberries.

A lot of raw recipes use nuts of some type as a base. You start this recipe by grinding 1/2 cup of almonds in a food processor. In our pre-processor days, I would grind the almonds in a plastic bag by hitting them with a blunt object. I do not recommend that method!

I combined the ground almonds with 2 Tablespoons Cacao, 1 Tablespoon agave, and 1 Tablespoon coconut oil. As you mix all the ingredients, the agave and coconut oil help the mixture stick together. For that reason, agave and coconut oil are staple ingredients in many raw desserts.

Pat this mixture into a 2 -3 inch mold to make a perfect circle. Make sure to apply some pressure so it creates a solid base. This will be the crust for the cake. I used a little coconut oil on the metal molds so the crust wouldn’t stick. Keep the crust in the mold for now so the next ingredients layer up nicely.

Place fresh raspberries on top of the crust.

Next is the most important part, the chocolate topping. Whisk 1/2 cup cacao powder, 1/2 cup agave and 1/4 cup coconut oil. The mixture isn’t terribly fluffy, but will firm up once it’s in the refrigerator. Drizzle the chocolate on top of the raspberries. It creates a very pretty mid layer.

Then top with a few more raspberries finish things off.

With the cakes still in the mold, put everything in the refrigerator for around 20-30 minutes. If they are still a little soft, then give them a bit more time.

Dustin and I straight up devoured every single bite. Part of me wondered how something so good could still be (mostly!) healthy for me, but there is no disputing the ingredient list. With our sweet tooth completely satisfied and our bellies full, we decided to reward ourselves again with a Sunday afternoon nap. It was a good day.

Garden Fresh

June 4th, 2012 :: 6 comments :: permalink

I usually save my trips home to Texas for the major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but this year I have a wedding to plan so an extra trip was required. My family and I spent a day in Austin shopping for dresses for my mom and sister and a suit for my dad. He was raring to leave the minute he set foot in the first store, so we were fortunate to find the perfect suit in record time.

After all our shopping was done, we drove back to Killeen and my dad was eager to show me his flourishing garden. I usually don’t get to see it since I typically visit in the winter, so I was quite impressed with the variety, health, and size of all the vegetables he was growing. I decided to make a dish that only had veggies that came from his garden. I wasn’t planning on doing a blog entry over my vacation, so all the photos were taken on my iPhone.

I get a lot of things from my dad. My love of cartoons, my sarcastic sense of humor, my taste for spicy/flavorful foods, and just a hint of stubbornness (Dustin says it can be more than a hint). One thing I did not get, however, was his green thumb. My poor money tree at home has about three leaves left which could also say something about my shopping habits at this time. I found out on this visit that my dad made a compost to create natural and healthy fertilizer and places buckets in multiple locations to catch rain water for his plants and a family of birds that live in his nearby bird house. That probably helps to explain how his garden is so healthy, even with temperatures already in the high 90’s and strict Texas water restrictions in force.

With my family’s help, we picked radishes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, peppers, and beets. It was the middle of the hot afternoon so we worked quickly. It was pleasant work though, as everything was so brightly colored and ready for the picking.

I washed all the veggies, while my sister finely chopped. I secretly watched her chopping technique to see what I could learn since she is a culinary school grad.

I had an idea to use the stems of the onions as a tie for the wraps and the cucumber flowers as edible decorations. The ties kept everything together and looked like a little bow on top of a gift. We finished off with a very easy peanut sauce by mixing 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 3 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 3 tbsp warm water and 5 tbsp peanut butter. It was a perfect match to the wraps.

My mom and sister left the peppers and radish out of their wraps, but I like most vegetables so used a bit of everything. It’s all about what tickles your fancy.

After lunch, my sister and I were feeling a bit silly, so we took the old wagon out for a joy ride. My mom even let us take her for a spin, but she would surely kill me if I showed the photo evidence. It was a good weekend and it isn’t ending just yet. As I write this on my plane back to Chicago, I am smuggling veggies in my suitcase.

Krispy Kale

May 23rd, 2012 :: 4 comments :: permalink

Crispy kale is so easy to make and it provides that salty fix I so often need. Kale was only introduced to my diet a few years ago, most likely because I was such a picky eater growing up. I was always a bit underweight as a child, so if my mom found a veggie or food that I actually liked, she never forgot about it. I remember her once bribing me to eat a cookie before I could go out to play. Pure desperation!

In the last 10 years, my taste buds have changed significantly. I can’t name one vegetable that I dislike and since I wasn’t force fed veggies when I was younger, I don’t have traumatic stories about soggy brussel sprouts or stinky asparagus. All of my memories of veggies are fairly pleasant.

My co-worker, a mom of two, told me that kale chips are one of her kids’ favorite snacks, so I thought I’d give it a try. Now I’ve had one more pleasant veggie experience.

Cook books and word-of-mouth used to be the only way to learn about new foods, but it’s great to be able to share a discovery like this so easily on a blog. Here’s hoping easier communication will open the doors to young people eating a variety of foods much sooner in life and creating happy memories of the veggie world.
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Irish Wedding Invites

May 9th, 2012 :: 20 comments :: permalink

Well…it’s finally happened after almost nine years of dating. We are tying the knot! We originally wanted to elope in March, but after thinking about it for a while, we decided it was important to share the moment with our parents and siblings. In just a few minutes, our idea of eloping transcended the Chicago courthouse and turned into a wedding in Ireland. And, because I’ve never been one for waiting around for things to happen, we decided to do it in August. Rational thought process, I know… (Dustin is fully aware of what he is signing up for). March and April have been a whirlwind of planning and decision making. Within three weeks, we found a wedding planner, venue, and dress and I had narrowed down my ideas for wedding invites.

Maybe it’s because I’m a designer, but I wanted the invites to be a little out of the ordinary. I wanted something organic and textured that would represent a trip to Ireland. I found a person on etsy.com that made the actual invites using wood. Once I found that first piece of the puzzle, the other ideas just kept coming.

I started out by buying most of my supplies from save-on-crafts.com. This store has everything quirky and crafty that you could ever dream of. I bought a large roll of dried moss that was a bright Irish-looking green. It smelled h o r r i b l e! I let it air out for a few days so I wouldn’t gas my family when they opened their invites. Once the smell dissipated, I trimmed and meshed the moss into boxes. If any holes were visible, adding an extra piece of moss quickly blended everything into one cohesive blanket.

When searching through the craft site, I was immediately drawn to this natural roll of fibers. I loved how light and airy it looked and thought it would be a nice added texture to our invite. I cut the fibers into thin strips to hold the invite, rsvp card, and return envelope together.

I was asked a few times from our planner and family members if we had a color theme. I didn’t have one until I found this simple purple yarn that would hold everything tightly together. When I think of Ireland, I picture quiet bright green fields and contrasting blooming flowers. I wanted to send a little piece of that to my immediate family who had no choice but to make the long trip to Ireland, and our extended family that probably wouldn’t be able to make it.

As a personal touch, I sent each person a hand written note stamped with an old oak tree. I enjoyed calligraphy class in college and jumped at a chance to use a dip pen again. It just feels so romantic and meaningful to write a letter in this way.

Once everything was assembled, I wrapped the boxed invitations with brown shipping paper that also fit in nicely into our theme.

I found old postage stamps for a reasonable price on ebay and thought they added nice additional texture to the outsides of the wrapped packages. A few of them were personally selected, for instance the stamp that said San Juan Puerto Rico was picked for my dad. Dustin’s family received a stamp that said Nebraska. We drove far into the suburbs to get the invites hand stamped and got a few weird looks as I took pictures of the process.

Throughout this process I have enjoyed organizing, making mood boards, and finding reasons to use art techniques that I haven’t used in a long time. I even water colored our save-the-date for our families.

 

We hope no one is offended that we have been keeping this news to ourselves the last couple of months, but we were waiting for our families to get the news and receive their invites first. It is now official though. We are getting married.