January 19, 2013

Pumped-Up Vegetarian Chili

Some vegetarian chilis are watered down, rather non-cohesive, and lack that savory heft of meat chili. 
This vegetarian chili is everything but.

I was on the search for a veggie chili that could stand up to its meaty counterparts, and I found it. It's loaded with nutritious ingredients that deliver on both flavor and texture, like lentils, soy chorizo, and creamy beans. By the way, I absolutely love lentils and had never thought to put them in a chili until now. It adds an earthy, chewy depth I'm officially hooked on. 

On a side note, one trick I use to make my chilis delightfully thick is to stir in refried beans. I didn't use that method here, but I still wanted to pass it along in case you want a foolproof short cut in time for Super Bowl Sunday.... It works every time, whether in beef, turkey, or veggie chilis. 

Enjoy getting creative with this chili -- use the basic method but feel free to adjust the spice level, toppings,  and even bean types, to what you enjoy the most. After all, the fun of cooking is in the flexibility, and the joy of eating is in the comfort of having exactly what you crave the most. 

Pumped-Up Vegetarian Chili: serves 8-10 
4 dried de-arbol chiles
4 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 large red onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, chopped
28 oz. diced tomatoes in juice
4 T. tomato paste

4 cups water
2 T. cornstarch

1-2 jalepeno chiles
8 oz. dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 can corn, rinsed and drained
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 can canellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 package of soy chorizo (I prefer Trader Joe's brand)
3 T. soy sauce
1 T. ground cumin
optional: fresh chopped cilantro, diced avocado, sour cream, shredded cheese for topping

Heat a large pot over medium heat, then add the chiles and walnuts and toast until fragrant and the chiles have gently puffed. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove tops and inside seeds from the chiles. Add the chiles, oregano, and walnuts to a spice grinder and grind finely. Meanwhile, heat 1/8 cup oil in the pot, then add the red onion and cook until soft and golden, then add the garlic and stir, 1 minute. Push the onions and garlic to one side of the pot. Add the final 1/8 cup oil to the empty space, then pour the spice mixture into the oil, allowing the flavors to bloom in the oil, 1 minute, then stir together with the onions and garlic. Add the bell pepper and saute 2-3 minutes, then add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir. In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 T. cornstarch with 1/2 cup of the water to make a slurry. Pour this, as well as the remaining 3.5 cups of water, into the pot. Add the jalepenos and lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the lentils are soft but still have a slight bite to the edges, about 35-40 minutes. Add in the corn, chickpeas, canellini beans, soy chorizo, soy sauce, and cumin. Stir to incorporate and cover to bring back to a simmer. Salt and pepper to taste, then serve with toppings of choice.

January 10, 2013

Spinach-Spiked Chicken Breast Meatballs

I really love Costco. Like, in a "can't help but spend a couple hundred dollars every time I go there" loving way. There's something magical that happens when you walk through those doors. Suddenly, everything you didn't know you needed is immediately wanted, necessary, and is such a smart buy

I lose all sense of reason in that place.

So that's evidently why I bought bulk packages of boneless, skinless, chicken breast in a quantity that could feed an army. POUNDS and POUNDS of it, in giant packaging. 

Have I mentioned we are a household of two + tiny dog?

What to do with all that chicken breast? Have I also mentioned that I don't particularly like chicken breast? I much prefer fattier, richer cuts of dark meat chicken. My purchase was a problem.

Enter the idea to make meatballs from ground chicken breast! I love grinding chicken breast and sauteeing it in spices for tacos, it's delightful. So why couldn't I use the same method for meatballs? It seemed to be a great way to make this lean, relatively flavorless cut of meat perform like its more succulent counterparts. 

And sure enough, it did. 

And they're healthy! Low in fat and loaded with spinach and whole-wheat breadcrumbs, you'd never guess that these savory, comforting meatballs pack a serious nutritional punch. Plus, they're easy. If you have a slow cooker, simply fill the cooker with the sauce and plop them in to cook. If you don't, no worries. You can use the regular methods of pan browning then sauce simmering, or oven baking. 

We enjoyed these meatballs over penne pasta and over soft, cheesy polenta. If you're looking for new uses for chicken breast (thanks for the surplus, Costco!), you'll want to keep this one in your repertoire!

Ground Chicken Breast Meatballs: makes about 40 1" meatballs
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
2 T. spice rub for grilled meats
2 t. dried oregano, divided
2 t. dried basil, divided
1 t. dried garlic powder, divided
1/2 t. sea salt, plus 1 t. sea salt set aside
1 t. ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen spinach
1 egg
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs
1 - 28oz. can crushed tomatoes in basil
1 - 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
3 T. tomato paste

Place the chicken breast in a food processor and process until ground. Add 2 T. spice rub, 1 t. oregano, 1 t. basil, 1/2 t. garlic powder, 1/2 t. sea salt, and 1/2 t. black pepper, the frozen spinach, egg, Parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs. Process until incorporated, then transfer into a bowl.
Pour the crushed and diced tomatoes, along with all the remaining spices, into the bowl of a slow cooker. Using wet hands, roll the chicken meatball mixture into 1" balls and drop into the sauce. Cook on low 6-7 hours or high 3-4 hours.
*Can be made ahead and frozen. 

January 6, 2013

New York Black & White Cookies

Until I met my husband, black and white cookies had never appealed to me. I'm not sure why it took a Chicago guy and his family to endear this New York area girl to black & whites, but that's how it went.

And now I'm into the chewy, cake-like cookie with the delightfully toothsome, split-personality coating of sweet sugar and deep cocoa.

This Christmas, my husband baked them as part of our Christmas cookie tradition with my grandmother. They turned out perfectly. Large, soft, golden... with beautiful, firm frosting. Eating one is like an instant transplant to the streets of New York, and they're just as stunning and delicious as that city itself.

New York City Black & Whites

For Cookies:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large eggs

For Black or White icing
1 1/2 cups icing sugar or 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon clear corn syrup
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon water ( approx)
1/4 cup cocoa powder + more to darken as needed

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. In small bowl or cup, mix together buttermilk and vanilla.

Beat butter and white sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes or until it's evenly distributed. Add egg to butter and sugar mixture, and beat until blended.

Gradually beat in flour mixture one cup at a time, and add in buttermilk mixture between each cup of flour, and mix until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl while mixing.

Spoon batter in 1/4 cup size servings onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake on middle rack for about 15-17 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and spring back when touched. Place on a cooling rack, and allow to cool completely before icing.

Stir together icing sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, vanilla, and 1/2 Tbsp of water in bowl until smooth.
Place half of mixture into separate bowl and add cocoa powder, and remaining water bit by bit until it is the same consistency as the white icing. Add more icing sugar to thicken, until it is smooth and spreadable.
Turn cooled cookies flat side up, and spread icing with pastry spatula or butter knife, putting white over one half and chocolate over the other. Allow the icing to firm up before storing in an airtight container or wrapping individually in plastic wrap.


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