Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mardis Gras in November

Yes, I do realize that this is the month where Turkey reigns supreme (while my sister may cook one in my kitchen for the "big day," it is still all about the sides -- always has been). However, I was a co-hostess for a baby shower this past weekend. We racked our brains and quickly discarded any "archaeology" themed showers (Bones and Babies? Somehow, it didn't seem appropriate! :) )

So, "A Mardis Gras Baby Shower" was born. The guest of honor spent a number of years living and schooling in the Big Easy and loves all things New Orleans. The colors were of course green, gold, and purple. We found a feather boa in just those colors for the mommy-to-be. That, along with a crown of jewels, plenty of beads, balloons, and streamers, not to mention food(!) and we were set for a party.
A request had gone out for no "traditional" baby shower games, so we provided blank masks, markers, glitter, and feathers and made Mardis Gras masks!

Here we are showing off our creations!

Each co-host had a separate food assignment, which was wonderful! One hostess brought appetizers and the cake -- let me just say that the hummus was amazing (and store bought!), and the cake....well it was from Publix, so of course it was good!

We had tried for a King Cake, but as they are seasonal and nearly impossible to get in Middle Tennessee, we opted for a yellow cake with vanilla custard filling, topped off with buttercream icing in fantastic shades of purple, green, and gold. A plastic baby was inserted in the side and covered up by extra icing. We were sure to give this piece to our guest of honor.

Our friend who hosted all of us made a salad and a Po' Boy station -- complete with all the fixin's. There were choices of roast beef, shrimp, and roasted veggies (eggplant and orange bell pepper). A few loaves of Publix French bread and we were set.

My contributions were vegetarian red beans and rice (thanks Jack Bishop!), a trio of hot sauces, garlic cheese toast, and my Dreamy Punch (my recipe). The red beans were absolutely amazing. My sister is amused that I get so excited over beans, but hey, these are special! I started with a rice cooker, a one pound bag of dried small red beans and a fantastic recipe from Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen.

New Orleans Red Beans and Rice
Jack Bishop -- A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen (pg. 373)

**Note -- I doubled the recipe.**
(My changes/additions are in parentheses.)

2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 medium carrot, finely chopped (I used 2)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium celery stalk, finely chopped (I used 3)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (I used 6 on the large side)
2 tsp. minced fresh oregano leaves (didn't measure, just kept chopping)
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce, or more to taste
2 cups vegetable broth (I only used a bit of veggie broth b/c I kept the liquid the beans were cooked in.)
2 15-0unce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (one 1-lb. bag dried small red)
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes (omitted these in favor of 2 Tbsp. tomato paste)
1 bay leaf (I used 3 in the initial cooking of the beans and left them in.)
(one green bell pepper, sliced into long thin strips)
Cooked Rice

My first step was to sort the beans into a large (5 qt.) chili pot. I then added enough cold water to cover by 1-2 inches. I added 3 bay leaves, put the lid on, and turned the heat up. Once it came to a boil, I turned it down to simmer. This will take about 2 hours or so (the no soak method is highly preferred -- another nod to Jack Bishop here [pg. 369]). I do not salt my beans very much (maybe 1 or 2 tsp.) and definitely wait until near the end -- the salt can make the beans impenetrable to the water.

In a separate skillet I sauteed the onions, celery, carrots in the canola oil. After about 5-7 mins. I added the garlic. To this I added the tomato paste and a Tbsp. of veggie broth, seeral dashes of garlic Tabasco, and a dash of cumin. I sauteed this until it was "sofrito" consistency. I added this mixture straight into the bean pot, and continued simmering. As the beans thickened I added a bit more veggie broth. I also added the sliced green bell peppers at this time. I let the whole thing cook for another 20 mins. -- then I had to have some! The scent of onions and cumin, garlic and celery was too much! I whipped up a quick bit of rice (actually the rice cooker did that), and some garlic cheese toast, set out a bottle of garlic Tabasco, and dinner was served!

I stored the beans in the crock pot (in the fridge) overnight, pulled them out in the morning, and reheated via the crock pot for two hours. Our guest of honor said they were quite authentic and tasty. And lucky me, there were enough left over that I had lunch yesterday!

**Best non-baby baby shower ever!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

In need of some comfort food

I spent the better part of this past week at a conference, which is always hectic and fun and exhausting. Eating out for several days wears on me, even when the food is really good. Add to that the perfect weather we are having (blue skies, all the leaves are changing, temps around 70 degrees, and one exhausted girl, well, I want some comfort food.

Since the food is still cooking, I realize I run the risk of posting a recipe that might turn out icky, but it is either blog or mow the yard.....well, you can see which one I picked!

First up is a lovely golden corn and potato chowder that I modified from Corn and Sweet-Potato Chowder by Didi Emmons (Vegetarian Planet). Not a sweet potato or cup of milk in the house, so a little improvisation is turning into Golden C & P Chowder (and it is lactose-intolerant friendly).

Golden P & C Chowder

1-2 Tbsp. butter (you can omit this and use all olive oil)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil (Next time I will cut the fat/oils down to 2 Tbsp. TOTAL)
2 cups chopped vidalia onion
3 minced garlic cloves
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika
2 1/2 Tbsp. flour (I used unbleached AP)
2 cups water
4 cups vegetable stock/broth
3 corn tortillas, cut into small pieces
2 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, diced (size is a matter of personal preference)
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper.
S & P to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a chili pot, and when hot, add the onions. Saute for 5 mins. until tender, then add the garlic, cumin, and paprika. Cook an additional 3-5 mins.

Add the flour, but keep stirring (this is akin to making gravy), so the flour starts to brown, but doesn't get all lumpy. Add the water while stirring. Stir to all is combined. Add the broth/stock, stirring constantly. Once all of the liquid is combined with the flour/onion mixture, add the tortilla pieces, corn, and potatoes -- stir to combine.

Add the hot pepper -- I pierced it with a knife so it would sink a little (and not bob around on the surface). Simmer for 30 mins. or until potatoes are tender. Discard hot pepper. If the broth is too thin, puree one cup of the soup (with corn and potato bits), and add back to soup. The tortillas melt away and act as a thickener. Add S & P to taste.

I will be serving this with a Potato and Squash Pot Pie and Cornmeal Scones.