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Queso me crazy?

Queso Fundido from ‘What’s Gaby Cooking’!

I know I’ve written a few posts about my resolutions and goals for 2017, but there’s one tiny thing I haven’t mentioned: I kind of wanted to enter some sort of contest, particularly a cooking contest. I don’t really know what brought it on, although I’d be lying if I said the episode of “Real Girl’s Kitchen” where Haylee enters a Texas pie contest really had me curious.

Sure, I’ve entered in writing contests all the time (and happily lose them one-by-one), but I also love to cook, and I’m always saying that I’m getting tired of impressing MYSELF in the kitchen, right? What better way to see what you’re made of than by entering a contest?

A few weeks ago, I randomly came across a Tweet that was advertising a local food contest, with all of the money going toward charity. Sounded right up my ally, so I saved it for a later day.

Upon further inspection, this contest is the 7th annual “Quesoff”, allowing anyone to enter, and all of the proceeds and donations go to the Austin Food Bank. Umm, yes! If you remember, another one of my goals for 2017 was to “Just go for it”, so I did, without really considering it.

Yep, it’s official, Team Bitter Lemon is a contestant in the 7th Annual Quesoff, which takes place at the end of August.

…Which is probably a good thing, because… I’ve never made queso. That’s right, I entered a contest to make something I’ve never made. Awesome.

Of course, it doesn’t seem that competitive and it’s for a great cause, so it’s whatever, but you better believe I want my queso to be delicious. It should also be noted that I’ve entered my (so far non-existent) queso into the “Meaty” category, so it’s got to have meat.

While I do not consider myself a queso connoisseur, I already know that I’d like to make a white queso that features lean, shredded meat with a smoky flavor, possibly duck. I also want it to be nice and spicy (edible, of course).

I haven’t tried recipes as of yet, but I have recruited some local foodies to my team, and I’ve rounded up several folks to help me taste recipes as I jump into this cheese wave of summer. It’s gonna be a fun one, I can promise you that.

In general, we use the term “queso” to describe a delicious bowl of melty cheese, often enjoyed with nacho chips. But of course, queso refers to cheese; queso blanco is white cheese; queso fresco is fresh cheese.

There are so many different ways to make queso – with several cheeses, meat, beans, spices, tomatoes, chiles… the possibilities are endless!

While this endeavor doesn’t really go with my current diet, I’m going to have fun testing out new recipes for the contest. The Bitter Lemon will NOT be embarrassed showing up in Queso country with a first timer cheese dip! Let the cheesing begin…

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‘Tis the season… for chili.

All hail the perfect chili!

All hail the perfect chili!

So, fall is here, and I know it was official about two weeks ago, but it doesn’t ever feel real to me until I make my first batch of chili. Why? Well, because I love chili, I love making it, and it just seems like the perfect thing to have simmering on the stove or in your crock pot all day before curling around a bowl of it before the day’s end. Right? Plus, most chili is pretty healthy – and for that, I’m really thankful!

I made my first batch of chili on Sunday, and I happily made enough for me to eat leftovers all week – everyone knows leftover chili is even better than the first bowl! There’s so many different types of chili, and thousands of recipes out there, but I wanted to share three that I’ve made, and love, with you: a vegetarian option, my signature chili, and a paleo option. I’ve got it all!

Vegetarian: Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili

This is the recipe I made this weekend! It’s the first time I made this particular recipe, from “What’s Gaby Cooking”, but it was very similar to a recipe I had in my kitchen notebook from Self Magazine. At first thought, sweet potatoes don’t sound great for a chili option, but since they’re simmering in spices all day, they really don’t taste like sweet potatoes, and they end up adding to the texture, in a good way.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced (I definitely am too lazy so I didn’t peel mine)
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipolte pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 15-ounce can of black beans, rinsed
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes (I got the one with the chilis)
  • 1/2 cup dried quinoa
  • 4 teaspoons of lime juice
  • Any toppings: avocado, cilantro, cheese…

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat a large heavy bottom pot with the olive oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the sweet potato and onion and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is softened.
  3. Add the garlic, chili powder, chipolte, cumin and salt and stir to combine.
  4. Add the stock, tomatoes, black beans, and quinoa, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir everything to combine.
  5. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
  6. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the quinoa is fully cooked and the sweet potatoes are soft and the entire mixture is slightly thick.
  7. Add the lime juice and remove the pot from the heat. Season with salt as needed.
  8. Garnish with avocado, cilantro, cheese… and serve!

I definitely doubled this recipe so I’d have plenty of leftovers for the week ahead. I also wanted to note that I used my own vegetable stock – if you don’t already make your own stock, it’s really easy, saves money, and you know exactly what’s in it. Simply keep your “food trash” (i.e., chicken bones, carrot tops, celery stalks, onion ends) in a freezer bag in the freezer. Once the bag is full, dump it in a pot with water and salt and cook for as long as possible. Strain, and freeze! I haven’t bought stock in years, and it’s amazing how much you can use for chili, soups, and sauce bases.

Signature: Turkey & Bean Chili

I hate to play favorites, buuuuut this is my FAVORITE! Why? Because I have spent YEARS perfecting this recipe. I got the original recipe from Real Simple Magazine, and have been tweaking it along the way, so it has the best amount of heat, a nice dark color, rich flavor, and a thick texture. I love it! I know, all the guys are groaning at the turkey choice, but it takes to the spices so well, I just love it – plus, there’s bacon in there, too!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 slices bacon cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 pounds ground dark-meat (7% fat), turkey (NOTE: this is one tweak I’ve made. I get a lean turkey breast, and shred it once it’s cooked to get a thicker texture. But if you like ground meat, go for it!)
  • 4 cups chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic cloves
  • 2 medium fresh jalapeno chiles, ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 cans (28 ounces each) whole tomatoes in puree
  • 2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (If you don’t have molasses on hand, use brown sugar or honey)
  • Coarse salt
  • 3 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) pinto beans, drained and rinsed (I use dark red kidney beans)
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, sliced pickled jalapeno chiles, reduced-fat sour cream, crumbled cornbread, grated cheddar cheese (all of these are optional toppings)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat a Dutch oven (or other heavy 5-quart pot) over medium heat. Add bacon; cook until crisp and brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Raise heat to high; add turkey. Cook, stirring and breaking up meat with a spoon, until no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes.

  2. Add onion, garlic, and jalapenos; cook until soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cocoa powder, and cumin; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute.

  3. Break up tomatoes with a spoon or your hands, and stir them in along with the puree. Add molasses, 1 cup water, and 4 teaspoons salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook, partially covered, 30 minutes.

  4. Add beans; continue cooking, uncovered, until meat and beans are very tender, and chili is thick, about 30 minutes more. Serve with desired toppings.

So, I pretty much make all of my chili in the crockpot – that way, I don’t have to worry about the gas stove (I don’t like keeping it on longer than necessary), and I can store it right in the fridge. If you want to make this recipe crockpot friendly, cook the bacon and the chopped onions in a skillet before adding to the crockpot. I like to start the meat (turkey breast) in the oven, but that’s up to you.

Paleo: Spicy Chorizo Chili

Several years ago, I went Paleo for about three months. In general, I enjoyed the experience, and I really liked finding recipes that fit my diet and tasted delicious. This recipe was one I found online, and made it one night when I had some friends over. They were a little skeptical when I said it was “Paleo friendly”, but pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted. It’s definitely one for the books – and if you’re looking for something meaty to impress your guy, this one is for the win.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound of grass fed beef
  • 2 fresh chorizo sausage links, casings removed (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (omit if you want the chili less spicy)
  • 1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
  • 1 can of rotel, spicy was used but you can limit heat by using mild
  • 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon of cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • avocado, red onion, and cilantro optional for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium skillet brown off beef and chorizo.
  2. Drain and toss into a crock pot
  3. In the same skillet add 1 tsp of fat and cook the onions and garlic just until the onion get a bit of color. You can skip this step if you like and just throw it into the crock pot. I just like giving the onions a bit of color before putting them in the crock pot.
  4. Add remaining ingredients, stir together, and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6.
  5. Garnish with diced avocado, minced red onion, and cilantro.

If there’s a chili recipe you go-to every year, I’d love to know about it! I never get sick of this fall favorite, and I’m already looking forward to my next batch!

Boyfriend Recipe: Sausage pizza!

Everyone loves pizza!

Everyone loves pizza!

The last time I had a boyfriend, I introduced him to my mom over pizza. Homemade pizza. I actually made three different kinds that day, because… pizza. And Martha Stewart’s Sausage, Arugula and Parsley pizza was one of them and it was supremely delish!

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 ounces of sweet Italian sausage (or spicy, if you’re up for it)
  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 pound of store-bought pizza dough (don’t be afraid of the Pilsbury wheat)
  • 3 whole peeled canned tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (or two, or three)
  • 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Remove the sausage from casings, saute over high heat, until just cooked through: 3-4 minutes. Break into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Brush a 12-inch cast iron skillet with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Press dough into the skillet, so it’s flat and reaches to all of the edges. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, prepare a baking sheet and follow baking instructions on the dough package once the toppings are on the pizza.
  3. Combine tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, 1 tablespoon of oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and red pepper. Spread over the dough.
  4. Cook (in the skillet) over medium-high heat until bottom is golden brown, 3-4 minutes, before transferring to the oven to bake for 3 minutes. Scatter the mozzarella and sausage on top; continue baking until edge of crust is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Garnish with parsley, arugula, and Parmesan.