Better yet, it’s Vegetarian Cowboy Dinner night (thanks Jimmy for the idea)! And no, it’s not an oxymoron. B/c it IS possible to make a vegetarian cowboy dinner. A thick and filling vegetarian chili, hot homemade buttermilk biscuits, a bit of crunchy sweet coleslaw, wild rice and beans, homemade and bubbling apple pie. Can I say, yum? Uh-huh. And if that hasn’t made you happy yet, throw in a table set for 7, several rounds of Jenga and you’ve got yourself a country ho-down. No joke.
So putting my bad cowboy lingo aside, I have a funny story to tell. I hosted last week’s family dinner at my new apartment and much to my dismay, I woke up on Thursday only to discover that the stove top didn’t work! The oven was beautiful, perfect for pies and cookies and tarts. But those burners! GAH. Being brilliant, I tested every single burner and left them on while I showered. Maybe, they needed some time to warm up? Ahh, hindsight is 20/20… and LUCKILY (or rather unluckily? I’m not sure yet, I have to think about that one), the burners still did not work!! So, I stressed out over how I was suppose to fulfill my hostess duties without a working stove?! What to do?!? So, being absolutely brilliant (second time), I decide to haul all my supplies down the street to my old apartment (which btw has a milkweed bug infestation, among other things) and cook the chili there, then haul it back up the hill to my new place to serve everyone. Crazy, no? Well, I have the pictures and the guns (biceps) to prove it. And did I mention, it was probably 90*F that day? Sweltering hot, I was dripping with sweat and it didn’t help that I also kicked up the spice factor for this chili at the persistent urging of Vivian and Andrea who kept telling me the chili wasn’t hot enough. I used something along the likes of 5 heaping tablespoons of chili powder, a couple fresh jalepenos (with seeds), several dried pasillas and California chile pods thrown into the hot simmering chili. And I guess, it still wasn’t hot enough. Too bad I choked the first time I taste tested the chili.
Yummy Veggie Chili
So I’ve never made chili. I don’t even think I’ve really had chili, unless you count that stuff from a can they pour over nachos and fries. So, where to even begin? Well after doing a bit of research from here, and here, I began to get an idea of where to start. The basic ingredients and guidelines are below. I have half of this and that, but you could definitely use the entire can of (let’s say) stewed tomatoes. But honestly, I’ve never made anything so easy in my life. And it is VERY quick and it packages well, like leftovers for lunch the next day – not that there were leftovers this time. The ingredients below can easily serve 6, or 8 if you have fixings on the side.
1.5 green bell peppers, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
3/4 large onion (white or yellow), diced
1 cucumber, diced [I accidentally grabbed this instead of a zucchini, oops]
1 zucchini, diced
1 yellow squash/zucchini, diced
1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 oz) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1.5 cans (15 oz each) stewed tomatoes
1 can (15 oz) corn kernels, drained
1/2 cup vegetable broth
several diced jalepenos, seeds in tact if you are brave
lots of dried oregano
a couple of cloves of fresh garlic, diced
lots of different kinds of peppers and hot things: chili powder, cayenne pepper, black and green chiles
sugar, salt and pepper, to taste
In a large pot (at least a couple of quarts I would say), drizzle a bit of oil and heat on medium high. Add garlic and onions and allow to sweat. After a few minutes, throw in peppers and sauté until those are nice and tender. Throw in the squashes and cucumber. Allow all the veggies to soften and then add the beans and let them sizzle in the pot to heat up all the way through. If the pot is looking a little dry, add a little of the vegetable broth. Then pour in the stewed tomatoes and allow to come to a low boil. Add more vegetable broth to thin out the chili, if need be. At some point, my chili wasn’t thick enough, so I actually added a tablespoon of starch to the broth before pouring it into my pot. Allow everything to incorporate and get happy on the heat. By now, you should have a thick chili consistency. Now comes the seasoning – season to taste. Yes, that simple. The tomatoes are fairly sweet, so I would stay away from too much sugar. But generous amounts of salt and heat factors should do the trick. And for effect, we added a bunch of dried chiles and let them soak in the chili broth until serving. But it’s a nice smokey taste that adds volume to the flavor. Throw in a handful of oregano, and then add the corn. Taste test again and again after each addition. I had Vivian and Andrea taste test EVERYTHING.
Sweet and Simple Coleslaw
This was so simple that I think I am forever going to have a batch in the fridge. I love coleslaw and making it at home lets you control the fat content – a definite perk for figure watchers. I went easy on the mayo as it is not in the best interest for my polka-dotted tankini, but if you kick up on the other flavors (tangy cider vinegar and sweetness from the cabbage), you don’t miss the fatty mayo. Also, I cheated a bit – I was too lazy to shred all the veggies myself, so bought the pre-shredded salad packages. Super convenient! And to make it more ‘homemade’, I threw in shredded bell peppers, half a head of Napa cabbage, and half an onion (now you know why my chili is missing half an onion). Semihomemade, Sandra Lee (who I detest) would be proud.
2 packages pre-shredded coleslaw salad
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
2/3 cups mayo
start with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
start with 1 tbs sugar
In a large bowl, mix the veggies and disguise the fact that you used store-bought-help. In another bowl, whisk together the mayo, vinegar and sugar. I kept having to add more vinegar and sugar, so I don’t know the exact amounts, but taste test as you go and you can’t go wrong. Just make sure not to add too much vinegar or you’ll end up with a liquidy dressing, when what you want is something more creamy. Pour the dressing over the veggies and toss until thoroughly incorporate. Generously sprinkle fresh ground pepper and toss together. Cover and chill in the fridge for an hour.
But wait! There’s more. No cowboy meal would be complete without homemade buttermilk biscuits. And can I just say, that it was soo difficult to find a recipe that did not call for shortening or lard. Yes, shortening and lard are very authentic, but I try to avoid them as much as possible (keeping in mind, the polka dotted tankini and my trip to Australia in a few weeks). But with lots of help from Google, we were able to find a fairly simple recipe sans lard and shortening.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 dash salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the buttermilk. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead 2 minutes. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet, roll into a 6×6 inch square, and cut into 12 even sections. Do not separate. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted in the center of the square comes out clean. Separate into biscuits, and serve hot.
Jimmy and Jessica’s Apple Pie
From now on, these two will be known as the J^2, until they can think of a better alias. But let me just say that this pie was amazing. While I was hauling my chili across the street, these two worked wonders in the kitchen. The pie dough was deliciously flakey and DID NOT require lard or shortening, thank goodness! We can thank Jimmy’s Ma for that recipe. It was fairly simple (as simple as pie goes, anyway, because really you know pies are difficult), and you didn’t have to worry about taking too long or warming up the dough too much as there were no fatty ingredients, just oil and water.
The Granny Smith apples were all hand peeled, cored and sliced, then individually dipped in the cinnamon sugar mixture. They were then layered around the pie tin such
that when you cut into the pie, you could see all the wonderful layers. Yuuum.
As a sidenote, J^2 are notorious for not following recipes, even for baking. Incredible. But our pie filling was loosely based on this one with some minor adjustments. Again, adjust to taste.
Jimmy’s Ma’s Pie Crust
We actually doubled this so we could make the lattice top for the pie. Soo pretty!
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil such as canola or corn
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water.
Measure flour and salt into bowl. Add oil, mix until particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing until flour is moistened and dough almost cleans side of bowl. (If dough seems dry, 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil can be added. Do not add water.) Gather dough together; press firmly into ball. Roll out. Transfer over a pie tin and trip edges OR do as Jimmy did and roll the edges up to form a lovely ridge you see in the pictures below. With the remaining dough, cut out half-inch strips and use to weave a lattice pattern over the pie once the pie shell is filled.
1 Pastry for double-crust pie [we made enough for the crust and top]
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples [Granny Smith works best]
Preheat oven to 375*F.
In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt; add apples and toss to coat. Pour into pie shell. Weave the strips of dough to make a lattice, pressing down the edges to seal the deal and ensure that the strips stick to the pie. Brush the top with a beaten egg and sprinkle raw sugar (for texture) over the top. The egg helps the pie brown to a lovely golden amber and the large sugar crystals really sparkle. Great effect AND flavor. Bake for 20-35 minutes, keeping a vigilant eye (Constant vigilance!) Remove from oven, allow to cool a bit before serving. Cut and enjoy!
So at this point, you better be groaning in sheer and utter contentment from all this food. I know all my friends did. At some point, someone unzipped her pants and let her tummy spill out – so much more comfortable that way. But thanks for joining us for another Family Dinner, perhaps next time you can actually come by and eat with us. There is nothing like cooking with your friends, with everything in chaos; dining ware everywhere; people covered in flour and chili sauce; bits of apple peel in the sink, counter, table, hair, etc; even bowls of dried chilies waiting for someone brilliant to taste test (there was in fact a chili eating contest, smart one Vivian). Dinner was true vegetarian cowboy fare served with a great group of fabulous friends. Another success in the kitchen and wonderful family meal at the apartment.
I am leaving for a 3-week sojourn to Australia (land of Donna Hay!!) soon, and blogging will be limited. I have quite a bit to work on before I fly out of SFO on the 6th, including a couple of grants for the lab, a few papers, packing, posting at least one or two more entries, working at Ici, growing old, the usual. But oh, so much to do in so little time! But so long for now, happy cooking and arrivederci!