Snow Day Experiments

SC is undergoing a rare snow-week — when a friend mentioned last week that temperatures were going to drop this week, I figured we were in for another brutally cold week with wind. Admittedly, the Lowcountry’s definition of ‘brutal’ is anything below 35 for more than a few days, but after living down here for 8 years, my blood has most certainly thinned to the point that 50’s still feels cool. On Monday afternoon they made the decision to cancel work/school for Tuesday, and before noon on Tuesday they had closed for Wednesday. After sub-32 temperatures for 3 nights, there are delays and cancellations for Thursday too. While we were safe at home with plenty of food, there’s a certain cabin-fever that sets in and I was itching to doing something besides clean and lazy on the couch. Below is what caused this mass chaos:

This little dusting wreaked so much havoc in the Lowcountry!

This little dusting wreaked so much havoc in the Lowcountry!

As I said earlier this year, my new years resolution is to try more new recipes– to take a risk, learn something new, and let someone guide me in the kitchen who has made the end result before. (Perhaps I should have added in there to keep up with the blog more often?) This 2.5 day midweek break seemed like a good time to use up some ingredients from around the house, keep myself sane, and fulfill any cravings we got in the ‘storm’ when we couldn’t leave. Southerners just aren’t able to handle icy roads – they’re not usually taught how to drive on them and even if they were (as I was), most cities don’t have the infrastructure to dispatch salt trucks and plows to all public roads. As such, we’ve essentially been on lockdown since noon on Tuesday! Luckily, as my husband put it, “We have provisions for weeks!” My retort was that we always have provisions and it just happens to be poor weather, but regardless, here’s how we kept ourselves busy and full:

4-Bean Chili with Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
1/2 cup EACH of your favorite beans- we used black eyed peas, black beans, kidney beans, and Navy beans
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 small onion, diced
2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes (you can also use any canned tomatoes you have, we just like the flavor of fire-roasted)
4 ounces of finely diced tempeh
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1 tsp chili powder or chipotle powder, your choice
1 tsp allspice (optional)
1 cup vegetable broth, as needed

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker and cover with enough vegetable broth to reach about 1/2 inch above the beans. Cook on high for 2 hours, then reduce to low for at least 4 hours. Check periodically to make sure there’s enough liquid– add more broth if not. The end result and consistency will be your choice.

Serve with jalapeno cheddar cornbread for a filling and warm meal on a cold day. We cooked the cornbread in a cast iron skillet, which was not only a fun presentation, but gave the perfect crusty exterior and soft, fluffy inside. Note: we used dried jalapenos that we re-hydrated in warm water. We found the heat mellows in the drying process, so we used 4-5 dried jalapenos and probably could have used 2-3 more. Adjust to your taste preference. The chili freezes really well for leftovers later in the winter!

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Instead of our usual eggs/potatoes breakfast, I made D hold off one morning while I made biscuits. After a recent girls trip to Savannah, I was craving fluffy and buttery buttermilk biscuits. I also knew we were stuck at home for a few days and thus couldn’t work out. My compromise was almond flour biscuits instead of white AP flour, and they were AWESOME with some blackberry/raspberry jam. We did them as drop biscuits instead of formed, and the little crunchy parts on top were my favorite part! Brings back memories of my dad making biscuits on snowy winter days and all of us trying to eat them off the baking sheet before they’d even cooled! (no photos, sorry! Ours looked very much like the one on the website with the recipe)

The biggest challenge was my sudden craving for Thai food (I fear pregnancy cravings if I have such drastic ones now without being pregnant!) We don’t have a truly authentic place in SC on a normal day, and I certainly wasn’t going to get anything decent in the midst of a ‘storm.’ As such, I took to the internet and did the best I could with what we had in the house, and honestly, I’m pretty proud of what resulted.

Despite my intentions to cook off of a recipe, for certain logistical reasons (aka not wanting to leave the house when there’s 1/4 inch of solid ice on the roads) I just couldn’t on this one. I did follow this Thai Basil Eggplant recipe closely, with the following modifications:

-I used 1 large white onion instead of red onion
-I added 1 sliced green pepper when sauteing the onions -it gave more volume to the recipe and I really like peppers in my Thai
-I skipped the red chilis but did add in a dash of Sambal to the sauce
-I used regular/Italian eggplants that you find at the grocery store — wasn’t running out to the store for Chinese/Japanese eggplants!
-we served over rice noodles, not rice

The biggest thing I learned from this recipe was the addition of cornstarch- without sounding like I have the culinary tastes of a college student, it gave this dish the ‘gloppy’ feeling typically associated with take-out food. However, since it was made from scratch with a ton of veggies, I knew it was good for us! There was a really good balance of spice, freshness from the basil, and creaminess of the sauce. Plus, over the rice noodles, it had a more elegant feel than typical take-out– I honestly don’t have a problem with take-out entrees, but when it’s put over dry white rice, it tends to put a damper on what would otherwise be a good meal. Another great alternative is bean thread noodles, which can be found at your local grocery store or Asian store. We’re lucky enough to have one here in Charleston and their noodle aisle is mesmerizing. If you’ve never tried rice/bean noodles before, pick up a pack and try them in lieu of rice – they’re quick to cook, less dense than rice, and give many dishes a more authentic feel.

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What recipe have you always had trouble getting just right? What’s the recipe you’re most scared to try? Let’s make 2014 the year that we conquer new challenges and add more recipes to our repertoire! Up next I have mujadara and shakshuka!

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Stuffed and Smothered Roll-Ups

Life is busy. Despite our best intentions, there are weeks where we are just ‘off’ our game and we eat leftovers more than we’d like, we succumb to edamame mac, or we put together some mismatched items to get a meal on the table. The low point of this week was veggie hot dogs with kale salad, which was for all intentions uninspiring, but the salad was too good to keep secret. We put my favorite ginger salad dressing from Japanese restaurants on kale! This dressing is my guilty indulgence but I always feel horribly eating it on wilted iceberg, so this was the perfect way to feel good about eating tablespoons of the tangy, gingery, and tart stuff. We replaced the miso paste with soy sauce, but I’m sure it would be just as good with the miso. Before serving, massage the dressing into the kale to help wilt the kale and make it a little easier to eat.

IMAG1296The REAL gem from this week, however, was a complete experimentation. We had a few eggplant in the fridge and were craving some good Italian, but didn’t want anything too pasta-heavy. This take on manicotti is not only fun to make, but healthy and a fantastic make-ahead meal for those busy weeknight dinners! Plus, if done the way we did, it’s actually completely vegan!

Stuffed and Smothered Roll-Ups

1/2 package firm tofu, pressed to remove as much liquid as possible
2 small eggplants
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh basil
2 cups marinara sauce (either jarred or fresh)
1 box lasagna noodles, boiled 6-8 minutes until al dente, not completely cooked

Cut eggplants in half length-wise and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 until the flesh is soft and pulls away from the purple skin, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, then scrape eggplant flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Add in tofu, garlic, parsley, and basil, plus salt and pepper. Pulse until combined into a paste, then taste– adjust and add any dried oregano, Italian seasoning, or other flavors to taste.

Take 3-4 pre-cooked lasagna noodles and lay them flat on a cutting board. Cut them in half to create pieces approximately 1.5 inches by 4 inches. Scoop out a teaspoon of the filling and place on one end, then roll the noodle over the filling and towards the other end, creating a tunnel of the noodle wrapped around the filling (see photos below). Lay each roll-up in a baking dish that has a few spoonfuls of marinara on the bottom. When the dish is full, ladle marinara over the top. Either bake immediately or cover with plastic wrap and foil- will keep for 2 days in the fridge or up to a few weeks in the freezer. When ready to bake, cook at 350 degrees until bubbling.
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These roll-ups are absolutely amazing. They’re everything you love about Italian food, but with the protein of the tofu and the eggplant hidden inside. And while you could add in some Parmesan to the filling or on top of the baking dish, these really don’t need it! They’re creamy from the pureed eggplant and tofu, savory, and sweet from the marinara. You don’t miss the ricotta, I promise – just taste the fresh vegetables and herbs. Plus, the noodles give them some carbs without the overload of typical Italian food. Try these next weekend and save a batch in the freezer for later in the winter– you won’t be disappointed!

Coming Up Next: Review of Lettuce Turnip the Beet vegan pop-up dinner at Butcher & Bee in Charleston, SC

Basil Spring Rolls

With a new year comes resolutions, and this year mine is one I know we are ALL going to enjoy. In 2014, I want to try new recipes that aren’t just freehanding whatever is in the house–I want to purposefully shop for specific ingredients needed for a specific fun, challenging, or innovative recipe. Of course, I’m sure we’ll modify things along the way, but I want to add more dishes to our repertoire – the perfect place to start are the recipes we got as a part of our wedding RSVPs. We’re specifically looking forward to a great shakshuka recipe, my aunt’s mujadara, and some new soups!

But for now, we started off 2014 with a familiar dish and one of our personal favorites. We met up with close friends for New Years Eve and given their small kitchen in their rental beach house, wanted to prepare something that didn’t need any last minute touches once we got to the party. These rolls are healthy, veggie-friendly, and light, but also filling and super tasty. Just like pancakes, the first few are a learning experience, but once you get the technique down they’re easy to assemble and fun to make- you’ll be the hit of your next party with these!

Look how pretty--why pay $6 at a Thai restaurant for these when you could make dozens at home!?

Look how pretty–why pay $6 at a Thai restaurant for 2 of these when you could make dozens at home!?

Basil Spring Rolls with Peanut Hoisin Sauce

-1 package of rice paper (approximately 9′ circles, in the Asian aisle at the grocery store, either Vietnamese or Thai, doesn’t matter) –should be dried/soaked in water before  using. We like 3 Ladies brand or one with a green dragon
-1 package thin bean curd noodles or rice vermicelli (angel-hair thickness)-cook according to the package (usually just soak in water and drain). Let them cool down before handling
-3 carrots, shredded. (Put together a bowl of Mirin and rice wine vinegar at a ratio of 3:1, then soak shredded carrots at least 30 minutes or until ready to assemble rolls) *see photo below*
-1/2 inch thick strips of tofu- marinated in your choice of seasoning. Sear all pieces and set aside. *see photo below*
-lettuce or Napa cabbage, cut into thin strips
-bean sprouts
-fresh basil (preferably Thai basil but Italian works well)
-1 bunch scallions, with the green part cut into 2-3 inch pieces. Save the remainder for the sauce below
For the dipping sauce (put in separate bowl for serving)
-peanut butter
-mirin
-hoisin
-rice wine vinegar
-sesame seeds
-thinly chopped scallions
-soy sauce
(taste-test until you get something creamy, a little sweet, and a little tangy-see photo below for our sauce)
To assemble the rolls:
Chop all of your vegetables and lay them out in separate bowls so they’re easily accessible. Be prepared to work in a circle–your warm water on one side and veggies on the other, with the dish towel in the center. This goes somewhat quickly, so have everything ready for assembly before you start.
Fill a large tupperware container (or bowl,  something with a flat bottom works best) with very warm water, but not boiling. Lay a clean, dry cloth dish towel on the counter.
Put 1 sheet of rice paper in the water to soak for about 30 seconds to a minute. When it’s flimsy and transparent, gently take it out and lay it flat on the towel. Smooth out any places where it’s folded over itself so it’s a flat circle. Bring the corners of the towel over top of the rice paper and blot off the excess water. Move somewhat quickly and be gentle–you won’t want to push it into the towel because it’ll make a mess. The rice paper should be a little sticky to the touch. The next step should happen pretty quickly before the rice paper dries ON the towel.
When the rice circle is flat and dry, put the toppings of your choice in the center of the circle. For a circle 7-9″ wide, you want about 3″ worth of fillings and to pile it about an inch high. There isn’t a science to it, but I start with a piece of basil (so that it shows through when you wrap it), then noodles, followed by carrots (the carrot marinade drips onto noodles and seasons them a bit) and then put 1-2 pieces of scallions, then cabbage/lettuce, then tofu and bean sprouts.
Fold the top of the rice paper circle (12o’clock) over top of the filling and kind of UNDER the filling. With one hand slightly pushing down on the filling, fold one side  (3 o’clock or 9 o’clock) over top of the filling, then do the opposite side. The only ‘loose’ paper should be at the bottom of the circle. Take the ‘roll’ and roll it towards you, being gentle but firm to push out the air and roll it tightly. The stickyness of the rice paper (after being soaked in the water) should make it attach to itself and have the whole thing stick together. This will look a lot like wrapping a burrito. The first few may give you difficulty as you determine how quickly you need to work and how to best hold your hands in relation to the roll to keep things together.
Set aside all rolls- they keep well in the fridge for a day or two, so feel free to make them in advance. I HIGHLY recommend wrapping them individually in plastic wrap or parchment paper to keep them from sticking to each other, because if the papers stick together they’ll rip. Dip in the sauce and enjoy the compliments!
These could easily be made with seared shrimp if you’re not veggie, but they’re just as good as they are (ironically vegan!) We were the only vegetarians in the group of 15 and they were gone in minutes–no one even mentioned the tofu! They have all of the flavors of a restaurant spring roll, but since you control what goes in them they’re healthier, cheaper, and far more satisfying! Give it a try and see what you think- could this be your ‘new recipe’ for 2014 that makes you the hit of every party?

Shredded carrots marinated in Mirin and rice wine vinegar give these an extra pop of flavor!

Shredded carrots marinated in Mirin and rice wine vinegar give these an extra pop of flavor!