A Key Lime Pie in Winter

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There’s something so delightfully escapist about eating a slice of key lime pie in winter.

Winter is a season of slow crackling spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, with a lingering warmth to take with you into the cold.

But the citrus bite of a key lime pie in winter is a defiant shard of sun in a bank of snow; it’s a flashing yelp of joy before a wave crashes into you and tumbles you into the sand.

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The airy merengue dissolves onto my tongue like nostalgia, and I’m transported to a humid memory of myself in Key West as a kid standing next to the 90 Miles to Cuba sign, the closest I’d ever been to the land that gave me my name and a place I had felt but never seen.

I disappear into a recollection of my fingers sinking into soft wet sand behind me as I lean back and watch the waves lap my feet, until a wall of graham cracker crust brings me slowly back to reality.

The plate empties, but the sensation of this escape echoes faintly, like distant laughter lost in the length of a beach.

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I bought this pie from First Slice Pie Cafe, in Lillstreet Art Center on Ravenswood Ave. It was delicious. I challenge everyone dealing with the cold temps to enjoy at least one slice of really good key lime before the winter is over; it’ll give you hope and perhaps a pleasant daydream. If you live in Chicago, check out First Slice for great food with a mission and amazing pies and Lillstreet for beautiful art and classes.

Homemade Corn Tortillas Will Change Your Life

A week ago I learned how easy it is to make corn tortillas at home and how absolutely delicious they are fresh off the griddle. Want to guess how many times I’ve made them since then? Let’s just say it’s definitely closer to 7 than I care to admit…

All you need is masa corn flour (Maseca), water, and a little salt. That’s it. I pour a cup of masa into a bowl, add about 3/4 cup of warm water, throw in a pinch of salt, and mix to make a soft dough. I break off about 6-8 pieces and roll into balls.  Then I tear two square sheets of plastic wrap, place a ball in between and press. I don’t have a tortilla press (YET) so I just use my cutting board and a rolling pin to flatten it to about 1/8 inch thick. Heat a griddle or pan, carefully peel the tortilla off the plastic wrap, and place into the pan.  Heat it for about 1 minute then flip over to the other side for another minute.  Repeat with the rest of them and you have a hot stack of delicious corn tortillas that are much better than any cardboard imitations in the grocery store.

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There’s also something really therapeutic about pressing the dough into a delicate disk and placing it carefully in the pan. The attention it requires helps me slow down (even if I am moving fast) and clear my mind, like pressing pause on life outside my kitchen.

Now that I know how easy they are, corn tortillas will now be in my regular rotation.  The first time I made them, I used them for tofu breakfast tacos by making a tofu scramble and pairing with a sweet potato hash and Cholula.

Tofu B-Fast Taco

The second time I made tempeh tacos by crumbling up some tempeh and sautéing it with kale, tomato, and spices like adobo seasoning, chili powder, and oregano.

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I even made buffalo pear blue cheese tacos, which I regret not taking a picture of and will definitely have to revisit.  I topped a couple corn tortillas with sliced pears, crumbled blue cheese, and slashes of buffalo sauce, and then placed it under the broiler until the cheese melted. The combo of sweet pears, tangy blue cheese, and spicy buffalo sauce on a base of a fresh corn tortillas was a symphonic blend that put me in a state of pure bliss.

So in conclusion: Go out and buy Maseca. Make some corn tortillas. Change your life. Most delicious life hack ever.

Honey Blueberry Polenta

My immune system is terrible.  2014 barely begins and I get another cold when I just had one last month.  Granted, my roommate was sick and I had just hung out with a bunch of children as part of a volunteer event shortly before I started feeling off.  Luckily, it was nothing major.  Just annoying congestion and coughing.  I self-medicated with a lot of rest and liquids, including some tea that caught my eye at the grocery store.

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Something else that made me feel better was getting a package of some things I left behind at my parents’ house.  Mom also sent some fun, random little extras including a tiny jar of some local honey and the cutest smiley face I’ve ever seen.  (And The Kite Runner, which I read all day on Sunday.  It was amazing.)

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One morning the polar vortex had me craving something warm and comforting for breakfast but I was sick of oatmeal.  I had just bought polenta a few days ago for a dinner so I figured some grits would be a great partner for the honey Mom sent.  (Let’s be real…I just wanted an excuse to eat a lot of honey for breakfast.  Might have put it in my tea too…) Thus, the incredibly simple honey blueberry polenta was created.

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1/4 cup polenta
3/4 cups of milk (I used coconut milk.)
Frozen or fresh blueberries
Honey

I brought the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.  I added the polenta and lowered the heat, stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes until it thickened and grits absorbed most of the milk.  Then I removed it from heat, added the blueberries with a stir, and let it rest for a couple minutes. (My frozen blueberries defrosted by just hanging out in there.) Finally I scooped some into a bowl and doused it in honey.  This probably makes about 2 small servings but for me it was one generous helping.

Just a note: In the pic above, I didn’t stir in the blueberries to make it prettier. ;)

What I’ve Been Cooking Up

A lot has changed since I last wrote.  Well, really one thing has changed but it’s a big thing:  I adopted a dog!  He’s retired racing greyhound named Dreamer, to be exact. I adopted him through a great organization called Greyhounds Only that rescues retired racers from tracks in Florida.  I had been thinking about adopting a dog for about a year; then I finally went to a Meet & Greet and fell in love with this guy.  It’s been 2 and a half months and I already can’t imagine life without him.  He’s a big sweetheart who just wants to nap and be friends with everyone.

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I can’t believe that it’s already 2014.  What’s harder to believe is that I only wrote 2 blog posts last year.  When WordPress sent my 2013 stats and I read that, I was horrified.  I thought, how did I let this happen? I swear I cooked in 2013!

This jolted me to revive this blog as part of my 2014 resolution to get back into writing.  I’ve neglected my creative side too long, and this is the year to change that.

So as a little warm-up, here’s a few recipes that I’ve had on repeat the past few months, as well as a creation of my own:

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Vegan Chocolate Chip Pancake for One from Food.com.  I went through a pancake phase, indulging myself in a different kind of pancake every Sunday, and it escalated to me finding a single-serving recipe I could quickly make during the week.  I just omitted all the optional ingredients in this recipe including the sugar and added chocolate chips.  It is really simple; I had the recipe memorized by my 3rd personal pancake breakfast.

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Vegan Black-Bean Quesadillas from Love My Vegan Life.  This quesadilla recipe has chipotle hummus instead of cheese and, strangely enough, it’s an perfect substitute!  The hummus lends it the creaminess you’d get from the cheese so you don’t even miss it.  I didn’t have pre-made chipotle hummus so I pureed a couple of chipotle peppers in adobo with red pepper hummus.

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 Tofu Popcorn “Chicken” from The Vedge.  This.  Just…this.  I made this quite a bit towards the end of 2013.  I never got it to look quite as “chicken-y” as she does in the blog, but I loved the flavor.  The coating is spot-on and when you have these the next day, they’re so close in texture (and almost taste!) to the animal version, it’s scary.  (I added a little hot sauce droplets to mine and dipped them in soy sauce.)

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BBQ Seitan Stuffed Sweet Potato with Mojo-Marinated Kale from ME!  I love sauce.  When I wasn’t a vegetarian, I loved barbecue and wings so much simply because the meat was a receptacle for delicious tangy, spicy sauces.  Once I learned how to make my own seitan, it wasn’t long before I started dressing it up in my favorite sauces.

Making seitan is actually not too intense of a process.  I use Terry Romero’s recipe from Viva Vegan, my go-to cookbook, but there are countless recipes out there.  You can also just buy ready-made seitan at some grocery stores.  I try to have some loaves on hand to make throwing together recipes, like BBQ stuffed potatoes, very quick and easy.

First I poked holes in my sweet potato and put it in the microwave to “bake” it.  Then I heated a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and sauteed the seitan until it was browned.  Then I turned the heat off, added barbecue sauce, and sauteed it for a few more minutes so that the seitan absorbed some of the sauce.  Next I split open my sweet potato and used a fork to mash the insides up a bit.  Finally I stuffed the seitan inside the potato and swooned over the delicious smell of slightly caramelized bbq sauce.

The mojo-marinated kale is also easy if you have the pre-made marinade.  Mojo is a citrusy garlic marinade used in Cuban cooking, and you can sometimes find it in the Latin section of the grocery store.  While I’d prefer to make my own to control the salt content, I had Goya brand marinade in the fridge so I put it to use.  I heated a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat and then added some shredded kale.  I sauteed that for a couple minutes til it cooked down slightly.  Then I added a few splashes of mojo, put the heat on the lowest setting, covered the pot, and let it simmer for a few more minutes.  The citric bite of the marinade made kale way more exciting and tasty than I’ve ever experienced, and it seemed to pair well with the smoky bbq stuffed sweet potato.

…Now I realize that I haven’t really written a recipe.  Since this is something I just threw together a few times, I don’t quite have exact measurements to share; but I’ll definitely be eating this probably another 5 times, so I’ll be sure to update this blog sometime with an actual recipe.  Nevertheless, I hope it’ll inspire someone to do a culinary experiment of their own.  :)

Cheers to a new year!

 

 

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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