All the Small Things: Pupusas Stuffed w/ Vegan Chorizo & Platanos Maduros

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Sometimes in a small moment, I wonder if I am creating a lasting memory.  I did this upon my first visit to Chicago almost two years ago, standing with my little brother in his first apartment kitchen eating slices of deep dish pizza from around the corner.  I asked myself, will I remember this years from now?

Yesterday I sat at my brother’s table sharing a giant cinnamon bun we got from Whole Foods because the frigid day gave us a craving for one and Ann Sather’s was closed.  We listened to a Nina Simone record and he taught me about Wong Kar Wai’s films and sure enough I turned inward at one point not only to remember that time in the kitchen, but also to wonder if my brain would randomly call upon this current moment sometime in the far future.

Because of this strange self-awareness, I inevitably make memories out of many small moments.  These moments don’t really have much significance.  There’s really no reason for me to remember that the post office clerk yesterday answered my question of “How are you doing today?” with the cool, smooth enthusiasm of an old jazz radio DJ. “I’m supercalifragilistic!” And how he bid me a farewell as if signing off his show. “Have a great day, a great weekend, and a Happy New Year.  I’ll see you on the flip-side.”

There’s no reason for me to remember that on my personal brunch at 3rd Coast Cafe today, while enjoying my coffee and magazines, my thoughts were interrupted by the punching and ringing of an old-fashioned register I hadn’t noticed before.

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These are small moments with little significance, but pausing to ask myself if I will remember them, while makes me an observer of my own life for a second, forces me to appreciate the present.  And appreciation allows me to enjoy laid-back lovely weekends such as this one when I can just do whatever my whims call me to do without the pressure of what a fun weekend for a 20-something is supposed to be–whether that’s buying myself brunch and magazines, or making vegan chorizo and frying up the plantains that are finally ripe enough for maduros.

Because I’m trying to use up what’s in my fridge so I can start fresh for the new year, I had to get creative with dinner.  I fried ripe plantains in a little vegetable oil to make plátanos maduros and afterwards the vegan chorizo I made a couple days ago using Terry Romero‘s recipe from Viva Vegan.  Then I chopped it into smaller pieces and used them to stuff them into pupusas.

Pupusas, a traditional Salvadorean dish, are essentially fat corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings.  They’re simple to make since you just add water to Maseca (which is a maize flour you can usually find in the Latin foods section of the grocery store) until it forms a damp dough that you can shape into patties, stuff with whatever you want, and pan fry.  Shaping them is a little tricky, but this is a good step-by-step tutorial.

I haven’t made them in the traditional Salvadorean way quite yet; I have been opting to fill them with whatever I have on hand–in this case, chorizo and plantains!  Since I didn’t have the customary tomato salsa or slaw (curtido), I opted to blend a couple chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with a little vegan mayonnaise, slather it on top, and garnish them with some extra chorizo and plátanos maduros.

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It wasn’t the healthiest of meals, but it was pretty delicious for an iron-cheffed dinner.  I also made some hot chocolate with a bar of Olive & Sinclair (a Nashville-based artisan chocolate company) for dessert, just to make extra damn certain that I would spend the rest of the night in food coma.  Highly effective.

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Orange Food: Spicy Butternut Squash Risotto & Pumpkin Scones

Tis the season for orange food. Pumpkin, squash, and sweet potato flamboyantly make their yearly debut.  This started, of course, back in September, or whenever Starbucks started selling their pumpkin spice latte again.  I’m just a little late in the game.  In fact, I’ve barely been in the game when it comes to cooking.  My relationship with food has been attacked by the over-stimulation of diverse choices, inconsistent lifestyle resolutions, and a semi-nomadic profession.  I’ve been cooking less and eating out more.  I don’t eat meat, again.  I’ve been in and out of Chicago for weeks and weeks. I won’t say again that I’m re-committing to cooking more and writing about it because I always am.

In spite of all that, the past week has been a good week and one with the orange food.  Last Saturday morning, I baked–something I hadn’t done and a while and realized that I missed it (in addition to missing a normal sized stove that can fit a standard baking sheet.)  I made vegan pumpkin scones with a chai buttercream frosting.

Vegan Pumpkin Scones

I just played with this recipe, adding some cinnamon and nutmeg.  All I had was gluten-free flour, so I think that made them a bit softer but they turned out all right.  I’d like to try them with regular flour again, or a different basic vegan scone recipe. (Ideas?)  For the chai buttercream I just used a basic vegan buttercream frosting recipe and added chai powder that I got a while ago from the spice shop down the street.  It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Today, because I was too lazy to brave the dark cold to go grocery shopping, I dug some pureed butternut squash out of the freezer and made a spicy butternut squash risotto.  I just used brown rice since I didn’t have arborio rice.  In fact, you could probably call it more of a savory rice pudding.

Spicy Butternut Squash Risotto

I’ll have to add the recipe later because I just iron-cheffed it from what I had so I don’t have exact measurements.  I essentially just made a basic risotto and stirred in the pureed butternut squash at the end with chili powder, cinnamon, pepper, a little bit of agave nectar then topped with crushed red pepper and pumpkin seeds.  It was a comforting delight eaten next to my radiator in my pjs. Winter hermit bliss.

Vegan Kahlua Chocolate Cupcakes

There are plenty of things I should have done after work today:  grade papers, go to the gym, put away laundry…but I didn’t want to do any of those things.  So instead, I baked.

Baking is not only my go-to procrastination tool; for me, baking is kind of like meditation.  Throughout the day, my mind is constantly in 5 million different directions at once.  It’s really a miracle that I’m still sane…despite what some may say.  So when I need to escape and relax and wine is not readily available, I bake.  What is so refreshing is that I don’t really think about anything when I bake.  I’m too busy completely in the zone.  It’s a straight-up flow state of mind.

Tonight I was inspired by the Kahlua on my kitchen countertop. It had been lonely too long, ever since breaking up with a white russian, so I decided to match it up with some chocolate, and in what better form than a mini-cupcake.

Mini-cupcakes are, by logic, the cutest things ever.  It’s already a well-established fact that things in mini-form are cuter.  Since cupcakes are already mini-versions of cake, mini-cupcakes are technically a mini-form of a mini-form–therefore, cuteness to the second power.  Go ahead.  Check my math.  I ain’t scurred.

The cake itself is surprisingly light and moist.  The flavor, thanks to the  buttercream frosting, is a hefty little kick of delicious kahlua.  Good luck not licking the spoon, you lush.  Next time, I’ll try to punch up the chocolate flavor a little more, but I’m not complaining.  This is a work in progress and I welcome ideas.  Maybe a drizzle of chocolate syrup, or a little chocolate something-something in the frosting.
Really, my only complaint right now is that it’s not yet Saturday, when I will be embarking on a 7-day cruise in the Carribean to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.   It’s my first cruise, and I’m insanely excited to get away.  Baking is a great escape, but let’s see what a giant boat ride can do.

Vegan Chocolate Kahlua Mini-Cupcakes
1 1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup kahlua
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp distilled apple cider vinegar
Kahlua Buttercream (I don’t like a lot of frosting on my cupcakes, but if you do, you should probably double this.)
4 tbls vegan margarine (room temperature)
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tbls of kahlua
1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place mini-cupcake liners in mini-cupcake pan.
2.  In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients.  Add wet ingredients.  Mix until well-blended.
3. Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full of batter.  Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
4. In a new bowl, beat together the powdered sugar and margarine.  Beat in the kahlua.  Adjust proportions to taste.
5.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Brush a little extra kahlua on the top of each.
6.  Frost when completely cool.
For the roomies...
For the roomies...

Lazy Sunday: Cranberry Bars and Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love fall daylight savings.  Falling back an hour is heaven that first morning.  I easily woke up at 8:30 and already felt accomplished by not sleeping in.  I went to my usual Sunday planning spot, Crooked Tree Coffeehouse, and had the usual Vanilla Chai Tea Latte.

After several hours, I finally finished writing my midterm for the semester.  I probably could have written it in half the time, but I was busy jamming out to 90s tunes on Pandora (Breakfast at Tiffany’s station is the bomb dot com), Facebooking, and other internet time wasters…in the name of making planning more bearable.  For example, I laughed at this photo for about 10 minutes because it perfectly describes me on a daily basis:

 

I think it’s the look of joyful denial that really gets me.  The Pretend-It-Doesn’t-Exist Forcefield was at max strength after I finished that midterm.  My roommate Allison and I got 5 tacos each at Fuel City and took them home.  After that, I found any excuse not do work-related things, such as watching TED talks.

Inevitably I got the urge to bake.  I cooked up a dozen chocolate chip cookies from some cookie dough I had left over from last night’s urge.  Then I decided to make use of some cranberries in the fridge by baking some cranberry bars.  They’re very basic but the tart cranberries remind me of the holidays AND the fact that my Thanksgiving break is TWO WEEKS AWAY!!!!

Chocolate Chip Cookies:  I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from my How to Cook Everything app.  Simple but makes some great cookies that are almost fluffy in texture.

Cranberry Bars:  I used this Gourmet recipe I found on my Epicurious app.  (Take a guess about how many food related apps I have on my phone and iPad.)  I just halved the recipe (because of lack of cranberries) and replaced water with apple cider and half the granulated sugar (that cooks with the cranberries) with brown sugar.  I also added a pinch of cinnamon and a few cloves to the cranberry mix, which I was careful to pick out later.  This was another simple recipe that could be easily dressed up, but it did the trick.  My leftover cranberries are way more useful this way than sitting in my fridge.

I’ve been dying to go back to Tennessee, which is something I’d never thought I’d write.  I miss my family.  And lately I’ve been very nostalgic about college and Nashville.  I’m definitely going to be taking a trip down memory lane when I go back and visiting some of my favorite places.

Not that I haven’t found some good places in Dallas…I ate at least four seriously gigantic slices of New York Style pizza at Serious Pizza in Deep Ellum.  I actually had to fold the leftovers so it would fit in my fridge.  I had cold pizza for lunch the next couple of days but I didn’t mind at all because it was absolutely delicious.  The sauce they use on their pizza must be seasoned because it was certainly not like the bland acidic tomato sauce you’d get at other places.

Still…I am ready to go.  I am so burnt out that I fantasize about going to grad school on a daily basis.  Post-Halloween my students were bat-shit crazy.  (Halloween should NEVER be on a Monday.)  I need a break. The kids need a break.  Everyone needs a break.  I’m sure you can sense the desperation by now.  But we’re almost there.  And I am two weeks away from some gobbling up some McDougal’s chicken tenders with buffalo sauce.  That will get me through the next 14 days.

Stewed Cherries for a Gypsy Soul

Well, it’s over.  Summer vacation is gone, Labor Day weekend has come to a close.  The upside?  It’s 77 degrees right now.  I think we have finally bid the three-digit weather adios and can see autumn on the horizon.  I can’t. effing. wait.  Today, in honor of its approach and to clean out my produce drawer, I made stewed cherries with cinnamon and clove.

They don’t look all that great but they sure tasted it!

Since I’ve last written, I’ve had many food adventures I have failed to mention, such as:

  • Chicken and waffles at Hattie’s for brunch (great, but not as great as the bacon-wrapped fried oysters with hollandaise sauce that my roomie had–awesome on SO many levels)
  • Sonny Bryan’s BBQ for a pulled pork sandwich (disappointing, but that’s really what I get for insisting on pork when I’m in brisket country)
  • A quality piece of steak at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (restaurant week deal!)
  • Another quality piece of steak at Ocean Prime plus a 10-layer carrot cake that’s been given accolades (also for restaurant week)
  • A Cuban sandwich at Jimmy’s Food Store (my only Cuban sandwich in Dallas and quite enjoyable)
I’m also three weeks into the school year already, and I feel less stressed and more competent than I did last year.  But, despite the fact that I love my students, I have been feeling a little unfulfilled…bored…and a little out of place.  My mom told me recently that I have a “gypsy soul.”  I always want to keep moving, go someplace else.  And it’s true.  I’m getting that restless feeling I had my last year in Nashville, the nagging itching to try somewhere new.  I get this feeling regularly but this past few days it’s been bursting like a shaken soda can.
The bubbling over of this feeling recently is probably due to a combo of factors (I’m all about the bullet points today):
  • My vacation is over and I’m back to my very demanding job.
  • I don’t feel intellectually stimulated or challenged.
  • At times I feel lonely, being back in the teacher bubble. I also feel one of my few friendships here in Dallas pulling away from me, which bums me out.
  • I haven’t been doing the things that DO make me happy like cooking, writing, trying out new things, or other creative endeavors.  And really that’s just stupid.
Basically, I just need to get over it and make more time for the things that make me happy, challenge myself, try to connect with people better.  I know very well I won’t stay here in Dallas.  But I do want to enjoy my life while I’m here.  Tonight I returned to two of them:  cooking and writing about it…
Cinnamon and clove are scents that just BELONG with fall weather, and though we haven’t quite gotten there yet, it made me very happy to make something that made me feel closer to it.  It was ridiculously easy.  I just pitted about a pound of cherries, put them in a saucepan with a cup of water and 5 cloves over medium heat, simmered them until really tender, and stirred in 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, a splash of pineapple juice (just because I had it) and sugar to taste (about 1 1/2 tbl for me.)
It made a comforting dessert to enjoy on the balcony while I watched the lights go off in the office buildings downtown and the stars come out of hiding.  While I sat there trying to put my gypsy soul at ease for a moment, I saw a falling star.  No lie.  I almost didn’t believe it–thought it was just my eyes tricking me, or the air pollution. But you can bet I made Jiminy Cricket proud when I wished upon that star.  I wished hard.