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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