Thursday, July 25th

Fabio Viviani and Me

A few months ago I was a lucky enough to be included in a tiny group of bloggers who got to spend an hour with Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani. We were riveted as he told stories and answered our questions about Top Chef, his favorite recipes, and his mother in Italy. He was just as charismatic and funny in person as he is on TV.  Fabio Viviani at Book People in Austin, Texas

Fabio Viviani and Book People in Austin, Texas

A few weeks later I was contacted by Fabio’s people and asked to contribute to his online magazine in the garlic-themed issue. I created a savory fresh juice (with just a hint of garlic) that is perfect to sip on a hot summer day. Go check out my recipe on Fabio’s site!

Tomatoes, cucumber, lemon, garlic, jalapeno, celery

Glass of juice by a pool and waterfall

Thursday, June 27th

Cashew Cheese

I’m no pro, but I dabble in the vegan arts from time to time. I love recipes that don’t depend on any animal products to taste amazing. Like this Cashew Cheese.

Vegan Cashew Cheese

Its flavor is reminiscent of parmesan, aged and nutty. Obviously nutty. And it’s so easy!

Start with a cup and a half of cashews and soak them for three to five hours, until soft. (You can do this with any kind of nut you want, by the way. If you use harder nuts, like Brazil or almonds, just add a few more hours of soaking time.)

Vegan soaking cashews

Drain well and mix well in the food processor with little salt, pepper, and two tablespoons of miso paste. Mix until smooth.

White Miso Paste

Put in a glass container and cover with cheese cloth or a nut milk bag. Place in a warm spot for six hours and let ferment. It was about 90° on the day I made this, so I sat it outside on the porch where I could keep an eye on it.

Vegan Nut Cheese

The cheese will discolor slightly on top. You can scoop off and throw away or just mix it in.

Vegan nut cheese

Refrigerate and enjoy on salads, sandwiches, whatever you want.

Vegan Cashew Cheese

This has all the richness and salty flavor of cheese, with none of that pesky dairy. This ordinary salad was exquisite with a simple addition of some homemade cheese. I highly recommend trying this!

Monday, May 6th

How the Betty’s Eat

Everyone has a few go-to, no brainer meals that they default to on those busy days. For us, fish is the default. It’s quick, easy, healthy, and I always keep a few pieces in the freezer. My default veggies are either asparagus or Brussels sprouts. When I make sprouts I put an Asian spin on the dish. It’s one of our favorite things to eat, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Start with a pound of sprouts. Cut off the bottom core and remove the outer leaves. They’ll look like this:

Brussels Sprouts

Cut in half and mix with 1 TB olive oil.

Brussels Sprouts

Season however you like. I use a little salt, pepper, and plenty of red pepper flakes. Then put in a 400 degree oven on a baking sheet and stir every ten minutes. They will crisp up nice and brown.

Roasting Brussels Sprouts

The sprouts will take about 30 minutes to cook. At the 20 minute mark, lower the oven to 350° and bake your fish accordingly. Obviously you want to give more time to thicker cuts than thin fillets. I often use salmon or trout, but occasionally I’ll roast shrimp, tilapia or something else. Whatever’s on sale. I season the fish with a spice blend and a dusting of cayenne pepper and sesame seeds.

We’ll eat the fish right on top of the sprouts in a bowl with chopsticks. Want some carbs? Make a spicy packet of ramen and drain most of the water so it’s not a soup. I use kimchi ramen from the Asian market and it is HOT! Top with Sriracha for a fiery dinner.

Fish, Sprouts and Ramen

Fish, Sprouts and Ramen

What’s your favorite go-to meal?

Thursday, April 11th

Paradise Smoothie

As a regular maker of smoothies, I’m always looking for new ideas and recipes. One of my go-to sites is Let’s Talk Fitness by local blogger Allen Stern. His devotion to fitness and a healthy diet led to a 125 pound weight loss. I, along with countless others, found great inspiration through Allen’s journey, which he generously shared with his friends, both online and in real life. The news of his passing last week shocked and saddened the Austin blogging, tech, and foodie communities.

I’m dedicating my favorite smoothie recipe to Allen. There’s no kale or spinach. No green powder, protein powder, or flax. Just pure enjoyment and things that taste good. The happiest smoothie I make. Let’s drink it in good health.

Start with a Thai young coconut.

Young Coconut

If you aren’t familiar with these, go buy one. It’ll change your life. They are far easier to work with than a traditional coconut. The soft meat scoops out easily and they are brimming with sweet, delicious coconut water. They are available at most health food stores as well as Asian groceries. Keep wrapped in plastic and store in fridge until ready to use.

Turn coconut on its side and cut off the top pointy part. Use a sharp knife to cut along a curve. There’s a round, brown coconut inside and you want to expose the top.

Young Coconut

Once you have the round top exposed, using a hacking motion to drive the side of the knife into the coconut. You’ll need to use a bit of force. Be very careful! Better to take a few whacks than cut off your hand, okay?

Young Coconut

Once you’re in, turn coconut upright so you don’t lose any water. Work the knife around in a circle and the top will pop right off. This is remarkably easy and can be done in under a minute. But if it’s your first time, be careful and watch your knife.

Young Coconut

Reserve the water and take a spoon and scoop out the coconut. It’s a very thin layer, so use the whole thing and put it all in the blender. Mix with

  • Two frozen bananas
  • 1/2 cup mango (frozen or fresh)
  • 1/2 cup pineapple (frozen or fresh)
  • Reserved coconut water

Blend until smooth. Serves two. Enjoy!

Tropical Smoothie

Thursday, February 7th

Vegan Mac and Cheese, if you please

Okay, not really cheese.  Just a creamy dream that makes you wonder why you ever needed cheese in the first place.

Vegan Mac and Cheese

Vegan cookbook author, Dreena Burton, graciously let me reprint her recipe here. This was just too good not to share. You’ll need:

  • 10 oz pasta ( I used elbow)
  • ¾ cup raw cashews
  • ½ cup raw Brazil nuts
  • 3 TB lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tsp arrowroot powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp mustard powder
  • 1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup water*
  • ¾ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 TB olive oil

Dreena offers nut-free options, so check out her site for alternatives. The ingredients I’ve listed are the ones that I used.

While you are cooking pasta according to instructions, preheat oven to 375°. Pasta should be al dente. Do not rinse once it’s finished. Combine nuts, milk, water, juice and seasonings in blender. Puree until smooth. Note: *I do not have a Vitamix or other crazy powerful blender. So I soaked the cashews and Brazil nuts in water for three hours beforehand and drained them. If you choose to do this, adjust water to half a cup as the nuts will absorb a fair amount. If you aren’t accustomed to using almond milk, make sure to buy unsweetened and unflavored. I know many, many people who accidentally bought vanilla almond milk because the packaging is virtually identical. Hey, Blue Diamond, use a different color. Stop ruining lives. 

I used the juice of a Meyer lemon, from my gorgeous supply from Girl Gone Grits’ plentiful bounty, now legendary among Austin foodies. Thank you, Kristina!

Soaking nuts

Lemon and Almond Milk

When blended, combine the sauce with pasta in a 8 x 12 lightly oiled baking dish. It will be runny and saucy, but don’t fret. The starchy pasta will thicken and absorb the sauce. Mix the breadcrumbs and olive oil and sprinkle over the pasta. I use a light touch with the breadcrumbs, but if you are into it, use more!

Cover with foil and bake for 15-18 minutes. Then remove foil and bake another five minutes or so to brown the breadcrumbs.

Mac and Cheese

If you wait a few minutes, you’ll be able to cut a better slice. But it’s hard not to just scoop it out and taste it right away. Both are okay! I am so impressed with how great this recipe is. Easy, too. I’ve made it a few times and it’s perfect each time. Dreena is a master of vegan recipes. Check out her lastest book, Let Them Eat Vegan and definitely make this.

Mac and Cheese

Wednesday, December 5th

Carrot Casserole

This casserole has been a staple at my family’s Thanksgiving forever. My mom passed the duty of making it to me years ago, before I really even knew how to cook. This is so easy, you really don’t have to know how to cook. It’s delicious, simple, and travels well. Plus, you should eat more carrots. Make it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 lbs carrots, peels and chopped
  • 1-2 cups shredded cheddar
  • 1 sleeve of saltines

Really, you don’t even need to measure the ingredients. Adjust for whatever casserole dish you are using.

Dice onion and saute in butter until soft.

Diced onion

Peel and chop carrots, then cook in boiling water until cooked through. Drain carrots, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

Chopped carrots

Shred your cheddar and open your crackers. Now your prep is done.

Cheese and crackers

In a large bowl, mix carrrots, onions, and saltines. Slightly crumble the saltines along the way. Mash carrots a little bit. Stir in the cheese, reserving a little to sprinkle on top. Place in casserole dish and cover. Heat through about 20 minutes before serving.

Carrot casserole

That’s it! Easy, easy, easy.

Monday, November 5th

Chili with Cornbread Cheese Pancakes

One of my favorite things to cook is chili. It’s a delicious, spicy, comfort food and I like to make huge batches and freeze it. I love you so much, reader, that I’m going to share my secret recipe. I hope you enjoy it.

Now before you start sending me death threats, just remember that I put beans in my chili because I’m a Yankee. I have no choice. And I think it’s insane to leave them out. But leave them out if you must. Also, I use lean turkey instead of beef because I don’t do a lot of red meat. But use beef if you must. And this is pretty spicy. So cut down on the chili and cayenne if you must. But know that you are ruining this whole recipe (and your life) if you make substitutions.

Here we go.

  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 lb 99% fat-free ground turkey
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 yellow squash, finely chopped
  • 5 large mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 habanero chilis
  • 4 TB chili powder
  • 1 TB cayenne pepper
  • 1 TB onion powder
  • 1 TB celery salt
  • 1 TB cumin
  • 1 TB paprika
  • 1 TB oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 15-oz can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 4 oz can diced chilis, divided

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat and cook turkey, breaking up into small pieces.

Ground turkey

Add the chopped vegetables and cook until soft, 10-15 minutes.

Chopped vegetables

Turkey and vegetables

Now add all the spices and habaneros and stir really well.

Spices and chilis

Next add the chicken stock, the tomatoes and their juices, half the canned chilies, and the beans. Still not sold on the beans? But look how pretty:

Kidney beans

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Garnish with onions, cheddar, cilantro, avocado, corn chips, or whatever you want and serve.

Chili

I’m going to show you Mr. Betty’s favorite garnish, the cornbread pancake. These are very easy and can be punched up however you like.

Corn muffin mix

Start with a box of corn muffin mix. Add one egg, 3/4 cup milk, and 2 TB melted butter to make pancake batter. Then stir in 1/2 cup grated cheddar and the remaining canned chilis.

Cornbread pancakes

Cornbread pancakes

Cook pancakes as you normally would, keeping a close eye as the cheddar can easily burn. But cooked slowly, the cheese will brown a little bit and give the pancakes the slightest hint of a crunch. These are incredibly good. Other ideas to punch up the pancake: add a little canned corn, red onion, or finely chopped scallions, a dash of hot sauce or jalapeños.

Serve immediately on top of chili and add anything else you like.

Chili with cornbread pancake

The pancake really elevates the chili to a whole new level. People love to break through the slightly crispy exterior of the pancake to get to the spicy, hearty chili. What’s great about this chili is that it’s not at all heavy or greasy. The lean turkey and tons of veggies keep it light, so you don’t need to feel guilty when you add a little sprinkle of cheese or a delicious pancake.

Thursday, October 25th

Easy Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce from scratch seems daunting. Like, it takes all day and only an old Italian grandma can do it right. But the tomatoes looked so good a few weeks ago I bought a bunch and decided to go for it.

Tomatoes

I’m not claiming this sauce is as good as your Italian grandma’s. But it’s pretty good. And very easy.

  • Tomatoes, about 12
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • One red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • One onion, minced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 4 TB tomato paste

A couple at a time, dip your tomatoes into boiling water for about a minute, until the skin splits. Then immerse in an ice bath for a few seconds until cool enough to handle.

Blanched tomatoes

Peel off the skins and discard. Remove the seeds from the middle. You’re supposed to be able to squeeze them out, but that didn’t work for me. I split the tomatoes in half and scooped out the seeds over a bowl. Lots of juices came out, which I strained back in at the end. You should be left with a nice, juicy bowl of tomato pieces.

Peppers, onions, garlic

Over medium-low heat, saute the pepper and onion until soft, about ten minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes, herbs and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a low simmer and let cook for an hour.

Tomato sauce

Stir in the tomato paste and let simmer another hour. Use an immersion blender to smooth out a little, but not too much. You want some texture from the veggies and chunks of tomatoes.

Blended sauce

Taste and re-season if necessary, then use however you like. Over pasta is a no-brainer.

Pasta and sauce

This just tastes so fresh. You can add more veggies if you desire, turn it into a meat sauce, or serve with lots of cheese. Sauce is a personal thing and there are a million ways to do it. This is merely one, simple and tasty execution of tomato sauce.

Tuesday, October 2nd

Turkey, Kale and Brown Rice Soup

I often go back to Giada De Laurentiis for fast, healthy recipes. This Turkey, Kale, and Brown Rice Soup is one of my favorite soups because it is so light. And I’m always looking for ways to fit more kale into my diet. The colorful bowl of goodness packs lots of protein, iron, and vitamins C and A.

Start by cooking some brown rice. You want about a cup fully cooked to add to the soup. While your rice is cooking saute the following in a little olive oil:

  • 6 shallots, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peels and chopped

Shallots, Carrots, Peppers

Cook veggies for about ten minutes, until soft. Add a half pound of lean ground turkey and one TB herbs de Provence. Break up turkey into bite size pieces.

Turkey and Herbs

Once turkey is cooked, add 6 cups low sodium chicken broth, a 15-oz can of tomatoes and the cup of cooked brown rice. Bring to a boil and add four cups of chopped kale. About this much:

Chopped Kale

Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve. If you like, garnish with fresh herbs and a few shavings of Parmesan. Look how pretty!

Turkey Kale Brown Rice Soup

A 1.5 cup serving is about 290 calories and 7 grams of fat.

Thursday, September 27th

Ramen Adventure

It’s been a couple months since I attempted to make my own ramen at home. I studied for a few days, shopped many, many times and blocked off about 48 hours to do this. I documented every step of the process and am going to walk you through the whole thing. I used a few different recipes, relying the most on Serious Eats: The Food Lab and No Recipes.

There are many variables to making a good bowl of ramen. Obviously getting the broth right is essential. But it’s also important to nail the chashu pork belly, the marinated soft boiled egg, the intensely flavored mayu, and the alkaline noodles. There are plenty regional additions that could increase the complexity and time of making ramen. I chose to keep it simple, although you’ll see that simple is a relative term. It was, by far, the most complicated dish I’ve ever tried to make.

First, let’s make the Chashu Pork. The succulent, melt-in-your-mouth slices of pork belly are integral to the dish. I love to braise. I love to watch the liquid level drop, and the smell of something cooking for hours on end.

Due to a language barrier when I ordered my pork belly, it was cut incorrectly. Ideally, you want thick slices to roll up and tie with twine. Mine were thin, which made them hard to tie and really hard to slice. But I worked it out.

Start with two pounds of pork belly and roll it up, skin side out . Tie tightly.

Pork bellyPork belly

 

Make a broth with:

  • 1 cup sake
  • Chashu braising liquid1 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 scallions
  • 6 whole garlic cloves
  • 2-inch piece of ginger
  • 1 whole shallot, split in half

 

I had trouble finding mirin, so I substituted with cooking sherry sweetened with a little more sugar.

Place the pork rolls into broth and put in 275° oven for three to four hours, turning pork occasionally.

Before cooking Chashu

And here it is, hours later:

Chashu

Place the pork in a sealed container and refrigerate until ready. Strain the broth and reserve the liquid. You’ll be using it to marinate the soft boiled eggs. So let’s go ahead and make those now.

Ajitsuke Tamago is a marinated soft boiled egg and my favorite ramen topping. A creamy, perfectly cooked egg makes the dish that much more decadent. Plus, it looks pretty.

To make perfect soft boiled eggs, push a thumbtack into the round end of the eggs. This prevents them from cracking in the water.

Pin in egg

Boiling eggs

Gently place eggs in boiling water and reduce to a simmer. Cook for six minutes then peel under running water. Place eggs in a small bowl and cover with braising liquid. Placing a paper towel on top will ensure that they are covered and submerged. Let marinate in fridge until ready to use, but no longer than 12 hours.

Marinating eggsMarinating eggs

Mayu is black garlic oil and the easiest thing to make. Grate five cloves of garlic into 1/4 cup sesame oil and cook in a pan until black. It smells weird and you feel like you’re burning it, but trust me, it’s right. I used spicy sesame oil to give it a kick. When finished, set aside. This is used as a condiment.

MayuMayu cooking

Okay, now we’ll go into the hard part: the broth. The most traditional broth for ramen is tonkotsu, which is pork based. The creamy stickiness develops from dissolving gelatin, fat, and marrow over hours and hours of boiling. The desired color is a clean, pale, opaque broth. Not brown. To achieve this you need to blanche the bones and clean them with chopsticks under running water.

Pig trotters

Cover three pounds of pig trotters (cut into rounds) and two pounds of chicken backs (skin and fat removed) with water and bring to a boil. Dump everything into the sink and start cleaning those bones. When you scrub off every bit that isn’t white or light beige, toss it all back into the pot.

Next you want to add aromatics. It’s traditional to use charred onion, garlic and ginger. Leave the skins on and just give a rough chop. Char in a hot pan with vegetable oil until nice and black.

Charred aromaticsAromatics

Next add in some mushrooms and scallion whites. We’re going for umami here, so don’t be shy.

MushroomsGreen onions

 

Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.

Broth starting

While boiling, skim off any skum that appears and use a paper towel to keep pot rim clean. After 20 minutes, reduce heat to a low simmer and cover. With the lid on, you want your broth to come to a low rolling boil. Adjust heat accordingly to make that happen.  Add a large piece of fatback to cook for four hours. It won’t dissolve into the broth, but will get very soft. You are supposed to whisk a little into each bowl of broth before serving. But I was grossed out by the texture of the boiled fat and threw it out. Hangs head in shame.

Let broth cook for 12-18 hours, topping off with water when necessary. Strain broth a few times to make sure there’s no trace of bones or vegetables. For the record, the broth should look like this:

Tonkotsu broth

Also for the record, mine didn’t come out that way. What I ended up with was a decent soup, but it just wasn’t correct. I’m not sure what went wrong in the process. Luckily, my toppings were all good. To assemble your dish, fill bowl with cooked alkaline noodles and top with broth. Then gently place toppings on top in a pleasing arrangement. Take a photo and eat!

Tonkotsu Ramen

Will I keep trying this until I get it right? Maybe. But it’ll be a year or so before I attempt it again. It took a whole damn weekend to make. I envision making this during a cold weekend while I’m snowed in at my country cabin in the mountains.*

*I do not own a country cabin in the mountains. Yet.