BURN IT ON PURPOSE: How to Char Peppers without a Grill

I’ve always heard you could stick some peppers on the burner of an electric stove to blacken them, but never tried it. It seemed… weird. And as someone who once made the mistake of getting a plastic mixing bowl too close to a burner, I was worried the pepper would melt and be impossible to clean.

Well, everyone was right! You can char a pepper on a stovetop just by putting them on the burner and using heat-resistant tongs to turn it every minute.

This is something you have to babysit – no leaving a pepper on the stove and then running off to check Facebook! You need to be able to turn the pepper and, general safety, not burn down your house by leaving it unattended.

As you turn the pepper, the inside is also cooking. Once the outside is mostly blackened, allow the pepper to cool before you handle it.

Once cooled, you can practically wipe off the blackened skin, scraping it a little with a knife of fork, or just by using your fingers.

This would be great in salsas, added to a burrito, stirred in a Mexican inspired veggie and rice dish, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

I used it along with some roasted sweet potatoes for a sweet and spicy soup. Love!

 

Eco-Art: Geometric Modern Wall Art (DIY!)

Since moving, I have about double the room I used to have in my old condo, and the ceilings are twice as high. I have a lot of artwork for the walls, but not nearly as much as I’d like.

I also had a TON of left over paint color samples from design school projects – I’ve hung on to them for some reason, and finally found a way to use them up!

Behold: The Free Paint Sample Paper Wall Art

I bought a canvas from the art store while it was on sale for 40% off, got some spray adhesive, and arranged the paint samples in random colored rows. Once the paint samples were stuck, I coated everything with a layer of Modge Podge to seal it in. (Many thanks to my ex for showing me the wonders of using this stuff for art! It seals it in and makes the colors pop!)

THATS IT!

(Pierogi was so excited at the new colorful addition, he kneaded extra-long on his favorite owl toy.)

Cost for project (canvas, adhesives): about $22.00

Now, go make something beautiful (and then take photos and share them here)!

So(ba) What!? Soba Noodles

Soba noodles are those thick, chewy japanese noodles often found in soups or traditional asian dishes. Aside from having great flavor and texture, soba noodles are a great alternative to white flour noodles, as soba is made with buckwheat flour.

Despite the word “wheat” in the name, buckwheat is a gluten-free and wheat free food. This makes it great for people with gluten intolerances (read all labels because some soba noodles may be made partially with wheat flour!), and makes the carbohydrates in the noodles slow-releasing. (No wacky blood sugar spikes and dips.)

Soba noodles are also packed full of vitamins and minerals, and have TWICE the amount of protein found in rice! Hmm, anyone else hungry for stir fry?

If you’re worried about fat or calories, don’t fret – a full cup of cooked soba noodles has only 113 calories and almost non-existent fat.

Soba noodles are SO versatile and can be used in and endless number of dishes – recipes and cookbooks everywhere can offer some culinary inspiration. But if you have nothing more than a pack of soba noodles and a well-stocked pantry, try this 5 ingredient recipe:

5 Ingredient Soba Noodle Dish

  • 8 oz. soba noodles
  • 2 green onions, sliced thin
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp tamari sauce
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Cook noodles as per directions. Toss everything in a big bowl, and dig in!


NEW VIDEO: (This is My Favorite One Yet!) Cheezy Kale Chips

Confession: I’m a fat kid at heart. Forever and ever. I have this habit of watching a lot of the Travel Channel and Food Network when I can’t fall asleep, and that always makes me want to eat bold, flavorful food.

The nutritional part of me wants to say “Bad, bad Jaime! Stop eating right before bed you dummy!” but sometimes I am legitimately hungry and can’t sleep until I fill up the bottomless pit that is my stomach.

Enter: KALE CHIPS. Somehow I never made these until earlier this week, and could kick myself as I have seriously been missing out. These addictive snacks fulfill most of my late-night cravings – crunchy texture, cheese-type flavor, and spicy. And, because they are kale, they are GOOD FOR YOU.

(The late night eating is probably not.)

Here’s my new video for kale chips! (I was in an extra-good mood so this one is a little goofier than the rest. I’m also playing around with how to make them more fun and not just “Hey… I’m standing behind a counter…” Let me know what you think!)

Super simple and inexpensive kale chips should find their way into your homes and bellies. Here’s how to make them:

RECIPE FOR KALE CHIPS

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 to 2 TBSP olive oil (start with 1 and add more if needed)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • a few dashes of sea salt

Remove the stems from the kale leaves, and cut or tear leaves into bite size pieces. Put kale in a large bowl, and add olive oil, MASSAGING into the kale (sexy!). Kale will be coated and shiny. Add remaining dry ingredients and toss with hands.

In an oven set at 250 degrees, put kale on a rimmed baking sheet and spread out (use more than one baking sheet if needed). Leave in the oven for about 25 -35 minutes, until kale is crispy and still a little chewy.

Eat entire bowl full. (It’s going to happen, I’m just being honest.)

*Some people like their kale chips REALLY dry and crispy, so that’s up to you. For me, when they are completely dehydrated they taste a little too “ashy”, so I like them to maintain just a bit of moisture. Keep an eye on them in the oven and take them out when the texture is to your liking.

Storing: If you are making them a little wet and chewy as I suggest, they are best eaten on the same day. They can be stored in tupperware but become more bitter by the next day. Completely dry kale chips will taste the same the next day and can be stored longer, but it’s still best to eat them the sooner the better.

There are MANY recipes for kale chips, so search the internet for more! I made them this way, and they taste like spicy, cheezy deliciousness so I haven’t tried anything else. Let me know if you have a favorite recipe!

(“Fat Kid” print via Rar Rar Press, Etsy $15)

Recipe Improv: Last Night’s Dinner

Wow, 95 degrees AND thunderstorms. What the heck are you supposed to do with weather like that? Last night was one of those times it’s simply too hot to eat. Except, of course, that I’m always hungry. My solution? Make a mostly raw, light dinner.

Here’s what I came up with:

Corn, Black Bean and Strawberry Salad

  • 3 ears of raw sweet corn, kernels removed
  • 1 diced poblano pepper
  • 2 tomatoes with seeds removed, diced
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 pound strawberries, diced (half of a container)
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • a few shakes of garlic powder

Using a knife, carefully cut the kernels off the cobs of corn. Add to large bowl. Chop a poblano pepper after seeds have been removed, and add to bowl. Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze the seeds and liquid into a bowl and discard. Dice seeded tomatoes and add to bowl. Add black beans, cilantro and strawberries.

Mix together. Drizzle a little olive oil and toss. Add cumin and garlic powder and toss again. For more sweetness, cut and add more strawberries.

I turned this salad into a wrap:

  • 1 quarter avocado, sliced, per wrap
  • whole wheat wrap

I put the salad into a wrap and added some fresh avocado to get some healthy fats in there. (Plus, come on, do you need to list reasons to eat avocados? Isn’t the fact that they are delicious simply enough?)

The strawberries blend well with the sweetness of the raw corn, and make this a light and very refreshing meal. You could play up the spicy factor and add more hot peppers or make a hot sauce, or compliment the sweet strawberries with a balsamic glaze. I ate it without any dressing or sauce and it was really fresh and tasty!

This is great weather for eating fresh, raw foods but man, I want it to be September. I long for sweater weather.

SUBSTITUTE TEACHING.

Yesterday I had a lovely morning in the Wise Bean cafe (ahem, see yesterday’s HEART OF STEELcity post!) with my buddies, and one friend that recently lost a bunch of weight by following a very specific weight loss program said she’d like to try using dairy substitutes when she starts eating “real food” again. She’s not vegan or vegetarian, but has found that the way her body feels and reacts to her eating dairy is, well, negative.

That got me thinking about today’s post. Once I said the blatantly obvious, “Low fat soymilk!”, I had a flood of other simple switches for healthier, animal-free (and thus, entirely cholesterol-free) alternatives for cooking.

For a CREAMY texture: Try nuts, like raw cashews – but be wary of added fat if you are looking to lose weight. Great Northern beans (white beans) also have a very mild, almost neutral flavor that help to thicken soups when pureed. And of course, silken tofu.

If you aren’t familiar with different kinds of tofu, silken tofu is sold off the shelf in an aseptic box as it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. If you’re making a soup, sauce, or salad dressing the “soft” kind will thicken it and also add protein. It’s neutral in taste, so you get all the creamy texture you want without any fat of a heavy cream! For things like desserts or pies, try “firm” or “extra firm”.

Healthy/Healthier Sandwich CONDIMENTS: Fat is tasty. It just is. That’s why so many people like mayonnaise – it’s just oil and raw eggs  whipped together. (Sorry to freak you out if you didn’t already know that!) If you want to keep the fatty, creamy mayo taste and feel, consider switching to Vegenaise. This stuff is freaking delicious. Even people that don’t like mayo love it! It’s not exactly low-fat, but it’s free of dairy, eggs, refined sweeteners, etc… It is sold in the refrigerated section of the “health food” department at your local store.

Other great options for sandwiches and veggie burgers are: hummus, something you buy pre-made or make your own with hummus-style spread by blending beans of your choice with garlic, onion, herbs, or spices. You can also make a homemade pesto-type spread with herbs or green veggies blended with nuts and garlic.

Replacing EGGS in Baking: These are great alternatives for people looking to lower their cholesterol (the yolks of eggs are little yellow orbs of that stuff!), or just use better alternatives. Eggs are a binding ingredient, so depending on what you’re baking, you achieve similar results by using fruits like mashed banana (this is AMAZING in muffins and pancakes!) or mashed avocado. Applesauce is a common replacement when you can have a more wet batter, or you can buy Ener-G egg replacer – white powder that looks like baking soda that you mix with some water. But one of the healthiest and best egg-alternatives is ground flax seed.

It’s best to buy whole flax seeds (you can sometimes find them in bulk bins at the store), and grind them in a coffee grinder or equivalent. Grind 1 Tablespoon of flax seeds, transfer to a bowl and add 3 Tablespoons of water. When you whisk it or mix with a fork, it will become goopy and sticky and this will replace 1 egg. This is best use for things that aim to taste whole-grainy, as flax seed has an earthy, nutty flavor.

un-TUNA Sandwiches: If you like cold, meat-based salads like tuna or chicken salad, you can create very similar vegan salads! You can use all the seasonings you’d normally put in the tuna salad, use Vegenaise instead of mayo, and the filling can be mushed chick peas! Just mush a can of chick peas into a bowl and it will make that “meaty” texture! Or, try using textured vegetable protein (TVP), which is small dehydrated pieces of soy flour that has been pressed and formed into little chunks. If you’ve ever used “fake ground hamburger”, imagine that but without the flavor added. Once rehydrated, a flavorless food that takes on the flavor of whatever you mix it with.

You can also try crumbled tempeh. Tempeh is a thick cake-like food made of pressed soy and grains that has been fermented. Don’t let the f-word deter you! It has absolutely wonderful texture. It can be cut in cubes for a stir fry, sliced thin to make tempeh-bacon, or crumbled up for a sandwich filling. If you like grainy, textured artisanal breads, you’ll love this. It’s best to steam the tempeh for about 10 minutes before you use it to remove any bitter flavor.

Sugar-Free SWEETNERS: The problem with sugar isn’t so much that the one teaspoon you add to your coffee will hugely effect your health – a teaspoon only has 16 calories – it’s that huge amounts of sugar are put into EVERYTHING (processed foods), often in the form of high fructose corn syrup. If you aren’t eating many whole foods, chances are you are consuming a surprising amount of sugar from places you wouldn’t expect.

Agave Nectar has been getting rock star treatment as a great sweetner alternative. It’s sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way, and has the consistency of a thin syrup. It’s made from the agave plant (same as tequila! woo hoo!) and doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. It does have about 60 calories in a Tablespoon, similar to white sugar but obviously less refined and processed. You can also use brown rice syrup which is more mild than agave nectar, but it does cause blood sugar to spike so it may not be great for diabetics.  Maple Syrup (the REAL kind, not Aunt Jemima’s – no offense to her) is a better alternative than honey as it is much lower in calories, and is a great source of manganese and zinc!

Please feel free to comment with some of your favorite substitutions!

What smells so good?

I have been the busiest bee! I’m mostly feeling excitement, but some exhaustion and feelings of being overwhelmed creep in. I’m curious to try some aromatherapy as a way to relax, slow down a little, and recharge my mind.

There are various aromatherapy products on the market, but the most basic form of use is to dip cotton in some of the scented oil and inhale through the nose, allowing the scent to take over your senses and calm you. Some of the most frequently used scents for stress and stress-related problems are:

Anger, Anxiety: Basil, bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, cypress, frankincense, geranium, hyssop, jasmine, juniper, lavender, marjoram, melissa, neroli, ylang-ylang

Depression: Basil, clary sage, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, ylang-ylang

Insomnia: Basil, chamomile, lavender, mandarin, marjoram, melissa, neroli, petitgrain, rose, sandalwood, thyme, ylang-ylang

Nervous Exhaustion: Basil, cinnamon, citronella, coriander, ginger, grapefruit, hyssop, jasmine, lavender, lemon grass, peppermint, nutmeg, rosemary, ylang-ylang

Nervous Tension: Basil, bergamot, cedarwood, chamomile, cinnamon, frankincense, geranium, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, melissa, neroli, palmarosa, rosemary, vetiver, ylang-ylang

Remember that scents are also great memory-triggers, so you can find one that brings up nice memories or that smell of a calming place to help you visualize something positive. And if you’re really lucky, you may be able to convince someone to give you a nice back massage with oil or oil-scented lotion!

Diffusers are also available, which are like small clay pots with a bottom half that holds a tea candle, and a top half above the candle where you can pour the oil of your choice, and let the scent fill a room, similar to a scented candle.

They won’t get all of your emails answered, and using scented oils may calm you down. If not, using aromatherapy certainly won’t have a negative effect! Scents can be found in some specialty grocery stores, health food stores, and online.

Check out Auroma’s website for everything you could ever want to buy or know about aromatherapy: www.auroma.com

What are your favorite calming scents?


SURPRISE PARTY! Pt. 1

SECRETS REVEALED! I am so happy to share with you one of my big secrets! I think I’ve built suspense long enough, so let’s get right to it:

I’m honored to have become a contributing writer for Laini’s Little Pocket Guide website! If you live in the Lehigh Valley, you’re likely familiar with the printed books. If you’re not familair, let me explain: Laini and her team have assembled handy pocket-size guidebooks for the three big Lehigh Valley cities – Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

These books are full of town history, quirky facts (like the proper way to drive around the Easton Circle) and list many of the businesses, shops, galleries and restaurants in the area. Everything mentioned is an independent or family-owned business. The books can be picked up at said businesses all over the Lehigh Valley, and sell for $4.99.

I met with Laini last week and within seconds of knowing her, her vibrant personality and passion about this part of Pennsylvania came through. Her wild red hair suits her perfectly, and her excitement for all the incredible things happening in the Valley stirs up a contagious thrill.

The print guides now have a corresponding website that just launched about a month ago, and I have jumped eagerly on board to write for it!  This project is so exciting because it’s about promoting and supporting the community. It’s about getting people excited to live here, and revealing all the little places tucked away that even us natives aren’t familiar with. (Thanks to the Easton guide, last night I tried a new thai vegetarian restaurant I’ve never been to! It’s only been about eight miles away all this time!)

Please keep an eye out for the pocket guides at independent business everywhere (and Wegmans, too). They make great references for people that seek to fall in love with the Valley all over again.

My first article was posted today. You can find that and more information on the pocket guides here (and become Facebook fans for latest updates and events!):

http://www.littlepocketguide.com/

(STAY TUNED later today for the unveiling of a brand new project!!!)

“Cabbage: A vegetable about as large and wise as a man’s head.”

It’s going to be a series of gray, windy days, so let’s lighten things up with some art, shall well? While searching for products for my “packing a lunch” post, I accidentally stumbled upon a very neat theme of printed art on Etsy – vegetable art!

Stay with me, guys. I’m not talking about those potato-prints you did in 2nd grade… although, they were pretty neat. I mean these very neat posters and stationary cards from clever print artists. For very reasonable prices, these beauties would look so cute framed and hung in your kitchen! Get rid of the rooster or sunflower themes you currently have (please!?), and try something handmade and kitschy instead.

This Corn Nerd print by Wonderthunder is the print that inspired this entry! Corn!!! Wearing GLASSES! And an argyle SCARF! Could anything be cuter and better than this? Is it wrong of me to say that the corn is kind of… attractive? Print is 6″ x 12″, and is one of only 50 made. All this for only $10. Go here and see the rest of the shop for more prints of food in clothes, and the cutest slice-of-bread pillow you’ve ever seen! http://www.etsy.com/shop/wonderthunder

I love type and text in art! The colors in this one are bold and bright. This is a series of “signs” the artist made in honor of some phrases that parents tell their kids over and over, like Eat Your Vegetables. “Use this series to remind your kids to toe the line, or to keep a spouse or significant other on the straight and narrow.” You tell ’em!  No one will ever forget the brussels sprouts again. Cost $60 at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/johnwgolden

How can so many wonderful things fit in one print? Letterpress type, retro inspired design, Farmers Markets, and that lovely green cabbage! My eyes can’t handle it, I need sunglasses to help with the radiation of awesome. This Farmers Market Produce print is one of many by YeeHaw designs. Simply lovely, and for only $25! See the rest of their fresh colorful produce art here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/YeeHaw

Do you know a veg-couple that needs a wedding or housewarming gift? Check out this Delectable Duo. Artichokes and mushrooms love each other in real life, too, I’m quite sure. You get both prints as a handsome set, for a mere $40. They are limited edition of 80/each, so click here and order some right away!  http://www.etsy.com/shop/nateduval

Have you ever looked at a block of tofu and thought, “Gee, you’re cute”? I know I can’t be the only one! Now you can get all your tofu-hugs out without making a mess of your clothes and wasting food. This Plush Tofu Pirate wants to be squeezed, and he could make a cute gift for a veggie child, too. Why is he a pirate? Why NOT a pirate, I say! Yarrr he’s only $12, go here or walk the plank: http://www.etsy.com/shop/pandawithcookie

Where my gardeners at!? I am so envious of anybody with a tiny plot of land for which to grow their own food. I’ve tried basil plants many times, and it always ended in tragedy. If you have a garden, I have some plants for you. 1. Give me some of your lovely veggies, please 2. Get this awesome Grow Your Own Food print and show your pride! Gardening is cool, and this proves it.  Only $20 – this and many more fantastic prints here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/bluebicicletta

Did you know vegetables could be so elegant? I am in love with set of 10 Bahay Kubo prints, all made with oil-based ink and colors are hand painted. Each print has a vegetable, and the Filipino name of the vegetable at the bottom. These can be ordered individually, but for only $65 the entire set would look perfect framed and scattered around your kitchen! Shop here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/pabili

What vegetable do you think is the most fun to look at? The many layers of the pointy artichoke? The soft smooth purple of an eggplant? Tell me!

FOOD IS GOOD: Indian Grocery Haul!

It’s hard to believe there was a time when I was just a wee little thing and grocery shopping was equivalent to slow, methodic torture. Now, it’s something I do when I want to relax, be inspired, or lift my mood. (AND it’s almost Farmer’s Market season! Can we all internet high-five each other?)

Here’s a little “haul” video I made after a recent trip to a newly discovered Indian Grocery Store in my neighborhood. I felt like Columbus finding the new world!

While I still try and navigate through proper lighting and etc., here are some pictures of the items I mentioned, plus reviews of what I’ve tried so far.

Nutrela soy chunks; Spice Gourd Chips

Nutrela soy chunks were great! They had a very hearty, dare I say “meaty” texture. No flavor though, so you have to take care of that on your own. You can hydrate them in vegetable broth instead of water. I used them to make a fake chicken salad, and it was yummy! One box will also make enough for about 3-4 separate meals. That adds up to roughly 40 cents a meal. How’s that for budget friendly?

Spicy Gourd Chips were alright. Very “fried” tasting (for obvious reasons), and the spicy stuff is just chili powder which means they are VERY spicy but not much flavor.

Pista Rolls

These are very sweet, and don’t have much defined flavor until after a few bites. Not bad however, the texture is very soft and chewy, and they do satisfy a sweet tooth without being something I could really binge on. Bonus: they sure do look pretty!

Chili Vinegar

This was a great compliment to the chili pepper beer I found in the previous week. I used this as the vinegar in an asian coleslaw I made. The chili flavor is mild and subtle, but overall a good flavor. A fun twist on a regular vinegar. Plus it looks so badass in the cupboard!

Chutneys

These were the brightest, shiniest stars of the shopping trip! The box contains 3 individually wrapped containers, making these a perfect option for packing in a lunch or on a trip! The quality is very high – so, so flavorful and delicious! While I liked both, the coconut chutney blew my mind away and deserves a monument built in honor of it in the middle of the grocery store. Final thoughts: SEEK THESE OUT!

Patra

I’m still unsure if “Patra” is the actual food, or the brand (if you know, please help me out!) but these were also incredibly delicious, and so much more than what I thought by looking at the package! They reminded me of sushi in that its a bunch of delicious stuff all rolled up, and then sliced into circular pieces. The flavor is intensely-spiced (not spicy) Indian seasonings, plus again, anything with coconut is a winner. You can pop a few in the microwave or in the oven and have a healthy and incredibly delicious lunch or snack. Final thoughts: SEEK THESE OUT, TOO.

This is only a small sampling of what I got – I bought everything in the video, plus two more bags of groceries (including some lentils and spices) and all of that food came to $35.00 Yup, correct. Thirty-five dollars.

What are some of your favorite food treasures from ethnic markets?