Dragonbreath Chili & the Tongue of Fire

Recently, my husband volunteered to make Sunday lunch (not a common occurrence as, while he is more than capable in the kitchen, he lacks confidence). This was motivated primarily out of excitement around the idea of preparing a new recipe: Dragonbreath Chili, a fictional dish in the World of Warcraft universe, interpreted by  Cassandra Reeder in “The Geeky Chef Cookbook” (I highly recommend it).

017c85e6-3a14-4e3f-9794-b45575de26edHe labored over it for a number of hours, and I was so proud of him for all his work, cutting all the peppers (two habaneros, among others), onions and tomatoes. And the chili stayed true to its name. While it wasn’t an immediate and overwhelming blast of capsaicin burn, it was the kind of heat that goes right on past your tongue and sets the back of your mouth on fire once you’ve swallowed, making sure you remember what you ate long after it’s too late to do anything about it. That said, I would eat it many times over.

The dragon’s breath that I was now exhaling led me to think about the other ways that I breathe fire. While I don’t consider myself particularly talented at giving a visceral and obliterating tongue lashing, I am more than fluent in the art of sarcasm and veiled insults. When I’m angry, I prefer to be blunt about my thoughts on situations, openly declaring things ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb.’

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. – James 3:4-6

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Idolatry and the Nutrition Facts

For many years, a lot of my time and passion has revolved around food, nutrition and health. In many ways, this has been a valuable passion that has taught me a lot, helped me improve my personal health and allowed me to help others pursue their goals of healthy living. I love cooking and reading recipes is a favorite pastime for me.

I love the we, as a culture, are learning to focus file0001460715847more on our health. It scares me how much we have let ourselves go as a population (guys, in 2010, 75.1% of adults in America are overweight. 42% are obese. OBESE!), so my heart is warmed when I see people making choices that put their health above their comfort or physical desires. Any time I see someone that is clearly out-of-shape out running, I have to fight the urge to roll down my window, pump my fist and cheer them on as they have made the difficult and uncomfortable decision to work to improve their life.

But what happens when you take it too far?

What I can no longer deny is that health and nutrition have frequently become idols for me. Struggles with body image have won the battle of priorities in my life at many times, which means that God and His image of me has taken the backseat to my own earthly image of myself. Even though it has been a while since I have been statistically overweight and even though I know that I am of a healthy weight and size, I still struggle to avoid criticizing myself, to approach food and cravings in a healthy way and to remember that food and nutrition are made for our bodies, not the other way around.

I am very careful to avoid ‘fitsipiration’, a new social media trend (mostly Pinterest) where you use inspirational images and statements to inspire you towards fitness goals. Surely keeping yourself motivated toward fitness goals is not a bad thing; however, most of them feature photos of women with absolutely ripped abs, toned and defined backs, strong and chiseled hips, or men with bulging, billowing biceps, huge and shredded pecs, the quadriceps of Hercules. As much as they can inspire you toward improving your fitness, they can equally remind you just how far from ‘perfection’ you are. It is a reminder of just how far you are from being worthy of being called ‘fit.’  Continue reading

Christmas Cookies & Ebenezers

Christmas cookies are quintessential of Christmas, more than any other dish, I would guess. Everyone has their own recipes and beliefs about what makes something a “Christmas” cookie. You will never be able to convince me that a chocolate chip cookie is a Christmas cookie. I don’t care what you say, it isn’t and never will be. But that’s part of how I was raised– Christmas cookies were cookies that you only had at Christmastime and they were special in that way. Many had nuts and lots of spices, not chocolate or peanut butter or even raisins.

IMG_0978 (2)

Even though December 25th has passed, today I am sharing with you our family’s recipe for Walnut Crescents, my mother’s answer to her mother’s Mexican Wedding Cookies. My husband earned huge points with Mom when he announced that they were his favorite of my cookies (they are also her favorite and frequently the last to disappear). I’m sharing these particular cookies with you for a specific reason– these cookies are a memorial, a celebration. They became a part of our Christmas tradition in order to remember Christmases past and the mother that made them worth remembering. In a way, they are a lasting ebenezer for our Christmas season.

Walnut CrescentsIMG_0975 (2)

Ingredients

3 3/4 c flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c margarine
3/4 c light corn syrup
1 Tbs vanilla
2 1/4 c ground walnuts
1 1/2 c powdered sugar

  1. Beat together margarine, corn syrup and vanilla. Stir in flour, cinnamon and walnuts.
  2. Cover and chill for about 3 hours.
  3. By the teaspoonful, shape dough into 2″ long rolls, shaping into crescents and arrange on baking sheet . (These cookies spread very little.)
  4. Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool, then roll in powdered sugar.

You probably just read that sentence and got lost. Let me explain.

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Forgiveness and the Grocery Ad

Last week, I read through the grocery ads, made my lists and planned my coupons. Sometimes I will divide up my needs between as many as four stores in order to take advantage of sales and coupon match-ups. This particular week, there was a one-day sale that put Oscar Mayer P3 Protein Packs at $1 each; having a great coupon, I was going to be able to get two of these for FREE! I was pretty excited about this, as I wouldn’t ever pay much for such a simple (and overpriced) product, but was looking forward to being able to stash a few of these in my fridge for good snacks on busy days.

But then I saw the sign. Stuck over the price tags for each variety of this product was a bright pink paper stating ‘This flavor not included in ad pricing’. I was frustrated and irritated. So I then started looking around for whatever flavors were included in the ad pricing. Nowhere to be found. No second location. No empty rack. Nothing.

I was angry. Stupid and trivial as it was, I felt taken advantage of and lied to. So I finished my shopping and quickly left. I haven’t been back. Yet.

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Spiritual Spoon-Feeding

Thanks to the military, my husband’s schedule is never a sure thing. Aside from long nights and phone calls at 4 am to confirm the paperwork he signed or to call him in to evacuate planes, there’s the constant change in shifts. After nearly a year on the midnight shift (similar to the traditional third shift), he spent about six weeks on days (the traditional first shift) and was recently moved to swing shift (basically second shift) for a few weeks. Once those weeks end, he will be some sporadic days of work and appointments, then some leave and then off to deployment in the desert for four months. Life married to the Air Force, even in our ‘easy’ corner of the world, stateside with minimal danger and longer station assignments, is hardly predictable or consistent.

All that is to say that the last few weeks while he has been on swing shift have been challenging. Our time together is minimal because I’m usually in bed by the time he gets home and he is still asleep when I get up in the morning. We usually have about half an hour together before I go to work. And then he is gone when I get home. It should be no surprise that I highly value the time spent around a dinner table and this schedule makes this impossible. It has put quite the damper on my cooking spirit! When I was single, I still cooked for myself quite a bit, but now that I’ve got someone that I get to cook for, lacking that is such a bummer!

So tonight I insisted on cooking (a bit) and putting together some of my favorite flavors to make:

Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush

(fancy people call it polenta)Barbeque Chicken with Cornmeal Mush (Polenta)
Ingredients
1 c yellow cornmeal*
3 c beef or chicken broth (water also works)
2 c cooked, shredded chicken**
1/4 c barbeque sauce (recipe below, or your favorite bottled sauce)

Toppings of your choice, such as:
pickle slices
pickled jalapeños
sliced raw onions
cole slaw/raw cabbage

  1. Bring the broth or water to a boil in a shallow saucepan. Once at a boil, whisk in the cornmeal bit by bit, whisking rapidly until smooth. Stir quickly and regularly to avoid clumps. Allow to cook over medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes, depending how thick you’d like it. Add a dollop of butter or margarine, if you like it a bit creamier.
  2. Toss the chicken with the barbeque sauce (below) and spoon over the cornmeal mush. Allow each person to top with pickles, peppers, cole slaw, etc as they prefer their own barbeque. The cornmeal mush is like the cornbread!

Kansas City-style Barbeque Sauce (adapted from Food Network)
Yields 1 quart
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c ketchup
3 Tbs brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs corn starch (+ 3 Tbs water, whisked into a cornstarch slurry)
2 tsp garlic powder
salt
2 tsp liquid smoke

  1. Bring the oil to temperature in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Before it bubbles, add the onions and garlic, cook until transparent.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients except for the cornstarch slurry and liquid smoke. Add a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the liquid smoke, then slowly incorporate the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Allow to cook for a few more minutes, longer if you like it thicker (it will thicken as it cools, as well).
  4. Strain, if desired.

*polenta works, too, but it is effectively the exact same thing, just a little more finely ground and about three or four times more expensive
**I use shredded chicken quarters that I boiled to make chicken stock a few days ago (quarters are pretty much the cheapest cut of chicken and have lots of dark meat flavor!)

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Input-Output

It has been a busy few weeks for me, between the new job, adjusting to the new schedule, tornado season beginning, mentally preparing for Ryan’s impending deployment and house hunting. Rolled into all of that, was wrapping up my training schedule, because two weeks ago, I successfully completed by second half-marathon. Over the last few years, I’ve run a number of ‘races’ of various lengths, mostly as a way to keep myself motivated when I head to the gym. Aside from ways to keep myself motivated and avoid injury (and recovery when they inevitably happen), running and training has taught me a lot about the importance of nutrition. Although I’ve never been one to shirk nutrition, its importance was never quite as apparent until I started pushing my body to new bounds. It’s really, really hard to run ten miles with a beef and bean burrito and a chocolate milkshake sloshing around in your stomach!

15th Annual OKC Memorial Half MarathonA well-balanced diet is crucial for decent performance, and the first time you try to train or race when dehydrated or without decent food in your system, you become (literally) painfully aware of your need for good fuel. I now carefully plan the meals surrounding longer training sessions and races: high carbs (but not refined sugars!) before, high protein and some fat afterwards. Don’t down a bottle of water right before, but give yourself time for your system to absorb and process it. Fuel throughout endurance runs with easily digestible sugars (and water), preferably with some vitamins and potassium to keep you going (I like using GU energy gels, especially the kind with caffeine!). Then, cool down with a cold light beer, because it genuinely helps control the lactic acid release and thus eases soreness the next day. Continue reading

I Just Read the Recipes

I’ve got a number of cookbooks to my name, about a dozen, plus about another dozen cooking magazines (e.g. Quick Cooking, now sadly defunct). Then there’s my recipe box, which grows fuller and fuller. And let’s not even start talking about my Pinterest boards (let’s just pretend I haven’t pinned over 1k recipes…).

But how many of those recipes have I actually made? A very small fraction, truth be told. I love to read the recipes, look at the pictures, admire the methods and fantasize about the produce. And then I put the book away, close the Pinterest window, shut the magazine. And walk away. Maybe I’ll eventually make it. But probably not.

In that spirit, I’m going to share a recipe with you that you probably won’t ever make:

Homemade Ravioli with Brown Butter Asparagus and WalnutsHomemade Ravioli with Brown Butter Asparagus and Walnuts

Ingredients – Ravioli

2 c all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp olive oil

1 c cottage cheese (the poor man’s ricotta– higher fat is better), strained (you want mostly curds, not whey)
1 egg
1/2 c sun-dried tomatoes (I make my own using this method– I also add some Italian seasonings for umph)
salt & pepper
(1/4 c freshly grated parmesean is a really nice addition, but I didn’t have any this time)

Ingredients – Asparagus

1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into ~3″ pieces
4 Tbs butter (do not substitute margarine or oil here– for a brown butter sauce to work, it really does need to be butter)
1 lemon
1/2 c chopped walnuts
handful of chopped parsley (I used dried this time, but fresh really is much better)
pepper

  1. Prepare your pasta dough by mixing together the flour, salt, oil and eggs. This video will help you learn the traditional ‘well’ method. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
  2. While the dough is resting, prepare your filling. Simply mix together the cottage cheese, egg, tomatoes, salt and pepper and optional parmeasan and set aside.
  3. Cut the dough into hunks and roll out into thin sheets. If you’ve got a pasta press, lucky you! I just use a rolling pin and lots of elbow grease!
  4. Once your dough is rolled out nice and thin (if they are too thick, they can end up too bready when you cook them), spoon out rows of scant tablespoons on half of the sheet. Then fold over the sheet to cover the filling lumps and press the dough around the filling to help seal the pockets. Then you can either cut between the ravioli pockets (make sure they are very sealed!) or use a ravioli stamp, like I did.
  5. You can either freeze these ravioli, refrigerate for a few days or go ahead and cook them now.
  6. Bring your water to a boil and melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus, stir to coat and cook for about 5 minutes.
  7. Once the water is boiling, add the ravioli to the pot (I use a slotted spoon to add and remove them) and cook. They should take 4-5 minutes. I also prefer to do this in multiple batches to avoid overcrowding the pot. They need to be able to move around freely in the boiling water. Once cooked, remove to a serving dish or individual plates.
  8. Remove the asparagus from the saute pan and add to the ravioli. Juice the lemon and add the juice to the butter left in the pan. Stir in the pepper (freshly ground is best– about ten twists), then the walnuts, then the parsley. Toss to coat, then pour over the asparagus and ravioli. Top with grated parmesean and additional parsley, if desired.

So let’s be real. You’re not going to make that tomorrow night. You’re not going to make that Saturday night. You’re going to look at the picture, think about how delicious it must be with the bite of the lemon juice and the nuttiness of the asparagus complemented by the walnuts. But that’s all.

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