Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2 Recipe #349: Quinoa, Black Bean, & Feta Stuffed Peppers

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This recipe is basically a fusion of two different cuisines. There are all of the usual Mexican flavors and ingredients -- cumin, fresh oregano, lime juice, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, black beans, etc. -- but instead of just stopping there, I added some complementary ingredients that, in combination with one another, are decidedly Greek -- i.e., feta, eggplant, tomatoes, fresh mint -- which almost form a sort of moussaka on their own. :) So, the theme is basically "Mexico, by way of Greece." The strange thing is that this combo really works well together. Imagine that. :-D

A lot of times I'll start out with an idea of what I want to make and then create a recipe for it before I make it. After all, if it's something particularly unique or elaborate, Erik's going to need a grocery shopping list from me at least a few hours (or a day) in advance so he can pick up the ingredients on one of his after-work supermarket runs. (For the freshest-tasting meals possible, I like to make and serve these creations within mere hours of when the ingredients were first purchased.) We both work during the day -- he goes to a traditional 9-5 job and when I'm in "book writing mode," I typically write and cook all day, that is, unless I'm conducting other business. So, since he's already outside of the home, he'll usually stop by with ingredients on his way home, either right before lunch or after work. So thank heavens for Erik and advance meal planning. :)

However, this isn't always the way it works. Often times when I create recipes, I literally create them on the fly while I'm in the kitchen. And that's exactly what happened in this case. Creativity can work in mysterious ways, so the way I see it, you don't question it, you just go with it. :) There are times when I have absolutely zero idea what I'm going to make that day. I love playing it by ear, because it certainly keeps things dynamic and interesting. To my mind, the uncertainty of the unknown isn't something to fear or become anxious about; it's exciting, and I absolutely thrive on it! Sometimes I'll just go to the fridge and the pantry and see what we have available and work from there. :) I like to improvise because sometimes that leads to more creative and unique ideas, plus it makes thing more challenging and keeps me on my toes. It's almost like I'm preparing to be a contestant on the show Chopped. Lol. So give me some insanely weird basket of hodge-podge ingredients that don't seem like they'd ever go together, and I'll make a culinary creation out of them. In the real world, this is otherwise more commonly known to most of us as "Survivalist Cooking 101," i.e., when the last scrap of palatable food has been used up and all you're left with is a slice of moldy bread, one egg, and a lemon. ;) It's do or die time. And if you eat that piece of moldy bread, you just might've chosen the latter option, quite literally. ;) Thankfully, Chopped cooking contestants don't get baskets filled with moldy bread, or at least not intentionally. Lol.

Speaking of which, a bunch of my friends keep telling me that I should enter to be a contestant on that show as well as other cooking contest shows (like The Taste or Food Network Star) but right now, I just don't have the time or the inclination. To be completely frank (and let's face it, when am I not on this blog - Lol!), part of me is afraid that I'd be the "usual me" and say something feisty or pointed, or make a way-too-honest observation on national TV that I'd later regret. Either that, or I'd freeze up and say nothing. (Yes, believe it or not, even in my state of seemingly constant animation, that can happen. ;) ) Sure, if I go all full-throttle, no-holds-barred "typical me," it sure wouldn't be boring, but I can just see my mom watching and then giving me hell afterwards. ;) Anytime I'm on the fence about whether or not I should say or do something "edgy" (like being way too honest for my own good ;) ), the phrase, "Don't do (or say) anything your Mom wouldn't be proud of," sometimes echoes in my ear. Our mother raised us to conduct ourselves properly in public, but of course, behaving properly in TV land doesn't typically make for good TV (or good TV ratings!). And producers know this. Even so, most times I think that they'll intentionally edit seemingly harmless things people say on TV shows to transform them into much saucier sounding sound bytes for maximum dramatic effect, instead of giving the audience a fuller, and much more accurate (!), picture of the interactions or the TV contestants' personalities or situations. And of course, you just know they're not showing you everything that goes on (both in front of and behind the camera). There are always going to be several filmed moments that hit the cutting room floor for one reason or another. But one thing is for certain: they sure do love their catty, drama queens. Me, not so much -- I'm a peace-maker at heart and like to calm down people and situations versus stirring them up -- but that's a totally different discussion altogether. I'm not really interested in bringing the drama on national TV; I'll leave that to the reality TV divas with gigantic egos that are way out of control. ;) If I ever made it onto a show like this, I'd probably do my best to try to relax and have fun with it, versus catering to the camera or being too conscious of its presence all the time, the latter of which is, of course, more easily said than done. :) The bottom line is this: Wherever I cook, I just want to have fun creating new dishes (preferably while surrounded by my favorite people and pets) and cracking jokes. :)

Anyhow, let's move from reality TV cooking shows and back to, well, cooking. :) And so, with that lead-in, here's the recipe, which is, big surprise, yet another recipe for The Athlete's Cookbook. :) This book has over 100 recipes to fuel the body for athletic performance and rapid recovery, many of which you'll be able to preview here.

Quinoa, Black Bean, & Feta Stuffed Peppers

1/2 c. (uncooked) quinoa, washed in 1 c. water, then thoroughly rinsed (to remove bitter saponin coating) and drained (makes 1 c. cooked)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large bay leaf
1/4 c. shallots, peeled and finely minced
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 c. eggplant, unpeeled and finely diced (into 1/2" cubes) (about 1/2 large eggplant)
3/4 c. water (or low-sodium vegetable broth, if preferred)
3 Tbsp. jalapeño pepper, with seeds, stems, and ribs removed (about 1 large jalapeño pepper)
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, minced and densely packed
1 15.5-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. feta cheese, crumbled
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground coriander
3/8 tsp. ground chipotle pepper
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 c. tomatoes, finely diced (into 1/2" cubes) (about 1 1/2 medium-sized tomatoes)
1/8 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 c. fresh cilantro leaves, finely minced and densely packed
1/8 c. fresh mint, finely minced and densely packed
4 large, wide red (or green) bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed with the tops sliced off and reserved

Directions: Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a rolling boil (on high heat). Add rinsed quinoa and boil for 10 minutes, then drain into a sieve over the kitchen sink, transfer to a bowl, and set aside. In the same pot you just used, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil on high heat until glistening. Then reduce heat to low, add bay leaf, shallots, and garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes, or until tender. Next, stir in diced eggplant, followed by 3/4 c. water (or if preferred, the same amount of vegetable stock). Turn up heat to medium-high, cover with lid, and cook for another 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Remove lid and stir in jalapeño pepper, fresh oregano, cooked quinoa, black beans, and feta. Season with cumin, paprika, coriander, chipotle pepper, salt, and black pepper and cook, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Discard bay leaf and remove from heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then stir in diced tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, and mint until well combined, and set aside. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. Place bell pepper "cups" (upright) onto an aluminium foil-lined 9" x 13" baking tray and, using a large serving spoon, completely stuff each pepper (to the brim or slightly over) with an equal amount of quinoa-vegetable filling, making sure to compact each spoonful before adding another. (This recipe makes about 4 c. of filling, so fill each pepper with about 1 c. of filling.) Cover each pepper with its reserved top, followed by a small piece of foil. Mold foil around the sides of each pepper to secure. Place into oven and cook for about 50-60 minutes, or until the peppers are tender and juicy but still slightly firm and the filling is evenly heated throughout. (The filling should be hot but not intensely so.) About half way through, lift up the foil and pepper tops to take a peek and check on their progress. Allow to cool for several minutes, then transfer to plates, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Chef's Notes: Advance preparation: The stuffing can be made up to a day in advance. Two days is probably pushing it in terms of texture and flavor, but if you like living on the edge, it will keep in the refrigerator for several days. :)

Vegetable selection and prep: When selecting peppers, be sure to pick large, squat, wide peppers that look like they can hold at least a cup of filling. The tall, skinny ones are a bit trickier to keep upright and their dimensions also make them harder to eat. It's the culinary equivalent of trying to cook the Leaning Tower of Pisa. ;) Pretty soon, you'll be lunging across the kitchen to save them from falling off the tray, while a little voice in the back of your head is screaming, "TIMBER!!!!!" Heheheh. So, do yourself a favor and save yourself the trouble: think like a civil engineer, and pick structurally sound peppers that won't topple over like dominoes should you breathe on them the wrong way. :)

Alternate preparations: There's a ton of protein in this dish already, i.e., the feta cheese and a hearty helping of quinoa. However, if for some reason, you need to up your protein intake, (or maybe you're just a big "cheese head" ;) ), you can also sprinkle each pepper "cup" with about 1-2 Tbsp. of either shredded mozzarrella or Monterey Jack cheese before covering them with their tops and baking them in the oven.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

1 Recipe #348: Zucchini "Fettuccine" Alfredo

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This dish was on today's lunch menu, chez penguin. :) Of course, most people probably think "fattening" when the word, "Alfredo" comes to mind, but this recipe is, of course, a healthy version, which will be appearing in -- yes, you guessed it -- The Athlete's Cookbook, but of course. :) (In case you haven't been following the narrative of this blog, this is the fitness and nutritional lifestyle book that I'm currently writing with Brett Stewart.)

Below you will find some cool tricks showing you how to make Alfredo sauce taste flavorful and creamy but without all of the heaviness and loads of saturated fat. (And, unlike some other "lite" Alfredo sauce recipes, this one will still taste like the real thing. Lol.) And because this recipe combines Alfredo sauce with zucchini "noodles" instead of traditional, semolina pasta, you'll actually be able to rise from the table without feeling like you're going to shift the earth's gravitational force and send it flying directly into the sun. Hahaha. Even better, there'll be no bloated feeling or starch-induced coma fest afterwards. :) I haven't seen this exact technique used anywhere else thus far, so as far as I can tell, it's a "Chef Penguin original." Anyhow, this is just one example of the special secrets I'll be sharing with you in my books. (Yeah, sell it baby! Hehehe.)

So, I hope you'll enjoy this recipe, content in the knowledge that you'll be feeding your family healthy, satisfying, and delicious food. :)

Zucchini "Fettuccine" Alfredo

4 long, medium-sized zucchini, peeled and julienned lengthwise into long, thin "noodles" (about 1/4" thick)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 c. shallots, peeled and finely minced
2 c. low-fat buttermilk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch (or arrowroot)
1 1/3 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
2 tsp. fresh marjoram leaves, finely minced and densely packed
1/2 c. unsweetened plain organic soy milk
1 Tbsp. Italian flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Directions: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil (on high heat), then add zucchini and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until tender but still firm. Drain, place into a large serving bowl, and set aside. While the zucchini is cooking, make the sauce: In a separate pot, heat olive oil on high heat until glistening, then reduce heat to low, add garlic and shallots, and saute for 5 minutes or until tender. Next, add buttermilk, followed by cornstarch, stirring to fully combine. Next, add Parmesan cheese, ground nutmeg, salt, and black pepper and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add fresh thyme, marjoram leaves, and soy milk, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, continuing to stir. Remove from heat and set aside. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, pour sauce over zucchini, and gently toss to combine. (Cooked zucchini is very delicate, so take special care not to demolish it while your mixing in the sauce.) Garnish with parsley and serve.

Yield: 2 servings.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

0 A "Taste" of What's to Come

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Almond Butter Frosted Almond & Date Muffins,
from The Athlete's Cookbook.
Hello All,

I just wanted to give you the latest news about the upcoming books I'm currently in the process of writing.

As some of you may already know, The Vegan Athlete and 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle are now out in print! :-D And Paleo Fitness will be on its way to the printer's very shortly. Brett Stewart and I have been hard at work on our next book, The Athlete's Cookbook, which will provide nutrition and exercise programs for three different fitness goals -- endurance, strength, and body fat loss. Each program will provide an actionable roadmap for fueling the body for peak performance and rapid recovery, including exercises, meal plans, recipes, and sports nutrition tips. The book will provide lists of key proteins, carbs, and healthy fats that will best help athletes to reach their top potential. Each of these foods has a corresponding recipe that fits into a meal plan, along with a description of the sports nutrition benefits of key ingredients, to give you tangible, practical guidance on how to put all of the pieces of the program together for maximum effectiveness.

Seared Diver-Caught Scallops, Quail Eggs, & Caviar
with Fennel-Dill Purée, from the Cooking with Corey
Then, after that, I'll be working on finishing my general healthy gourmet cookbook. I'm still creating recipes for this book, which will contain over 250 original recipes, ranging from simple, quick and easy family-friendly favorites and ideal dishes for entertaining to grand, gourmet affairs. :) There will be something for everyone, no matter what your culinary skill level. I'm out to prove that everyone, and I mean everyone, can learn to cook tasty, healthy meals, if given the proper instruction, encouragement, and atmosphere. Towards this end, the recipe directions are written without any assumption about a person's cooking experience or skill level, so that anyone can make these dishes with complete confidence. :)

Unique to the book are original, never-before-created recipes that you won't find anywhere else, all of which have been taste-tested by not only me, but some very discerning friends, family, and colleagues, many of whom are experienced chefs with a highly refined palate. I will also teach you some techniques to make dishes healthier that you probably haven't seen before. You'll also see a wide variety of cuisines represented in this book from many different regions and cultures of the United States and around the world.

If you need delicious healthy go-to meals for breakfast, lunches, and dinners, plus quick healthy snack ideas, this book has all of that and more. This book will also give you the impetus to expand your horizons too. Try making a new dish, sample world cuisines you've never tried before, or learn new cooking techniques. This book contains a whole host of new things to learn and discover. The variety and exploratory nature of this book will not only further your development as a cook but will also keep your cooking experiences enjoyable and interesting. :)

By taking a lighthearted and irreverent perspective approach to food, my intent is to encourage people to have fun cooking and eating healthy food. I hope to ignite their curiosity and passion for food and cooking, and encourage them to revel in the joy and excitement of it all. That's really one of the book's underlying themes. And I'm going to do my best to help you set the stage for the best cooking experience possible so that you not only get lots of useful takeaways but also truly enjoy it!

Italian-style Marinated Vegetable Salad, from the
Cooking with Corey Cookbook.
This book is chock full of ideas, and not just meal ideas either. You'll find tips and food suggestions for entertaining, helpful information about kitchen tools and equipment, and useful pointers and advisories regarding particular foods and kitchenware, as well as insightful background about the origin and history of various foods and dishes from American regional and world cuisines, all of which will help make you a better-informed and more skillful cook.

Another key component of the book is quick, no-fuss (and no-mess!) meals:  I'll provide you with easy favorites that you can make in a snap for your family for weekday meals. After a full day's work, you're probably tired and hungry, and would really love it if somehow healthy, whole, and delicious food would just magically appear on your table. I get that, I truly do! Well, I'm not a magician but this book will give you the next best thing. :) You'll get recipes that are easy, with minimal ingredients, and yet, are packed with flavor. Wow, how did I do that?! Yes, it's almost magic. Lol. And you'll be loving the quick dinners and the easy clean-up too!

Blueberry-Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes,
from The Athlete's Cookbook.
And for those of you who want to "play" on the weekends, this book has got you covered too. :) There are fun, simple recipes that even your kids can make. You might want to still supervise them in the kitchen, unless you're OK with food fights or sauce on the ceiling. Lol. But seriously, let's face it. Playtime in the kitchen isn't just for kids. We adults also want to have some fun in the kitchen too. For example, there are some easy-to-make pancake recipes for lazy Sunday afternoons that both you and your kids will love. And better still, they won't even realize that they're healthy. :-D All you'll see are smiles and empty plates. :)

All of the recipes from the book contain fresh, whole, and all-natural ingredients to help you cook delicious, satisfying meals without resorting to the use of processed food. You'll love how you feel after you eat this food! And if you eat these dishes in reasonable portions, you might even drop those last few stubborn pounds of body fat you've been trying to shed as well. Food is a huge part of health, and if you've got the eating and cooking part down pat, that's about 85% of what it takes to maintain a healthy weight and body fat percentage. However, this doesn't mean dieting or deprivation either. My cookbook contains a whole host of delectable desserts and snacks that will tantalize your senses, and also happen to be -- yes, you guessed it! -- healthy. :) I'll show you how to make delicious AND nutritious brownies, pies, cookies, and cakes that actually help you stay healthy instead of rotting your teeth. You almost won't believe your eyes, or the dial on your scale. ;)

To whet your appetite for a "taste" of what's to come, I'll leave you with one final photo of a recipe that will only be appearing in the cookbook:

White Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies from the Cooking with Corey cookbook. And yes, they've actually got
a lot of healthy, whole ingredients in them too. :)

Stay tuned for more sample recipes and photos from my upcoming books....

Happy Cooking,

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

0 Recipe #347: Walnut & Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Fresh Herbs, Served with a Side of Steamed Broccoli

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This recipe is yet another selection that will appear in The Athlete's Cookbook. The unique thing about this dish is that it's made with zero added oil, and yet, the chicken tastes incredibly flavorful and moist, and won't stick to the pan. Right about now, some of you might be thinking, "Doesn't skinless chicken breast become dry or burn if you don't add oil to the pan while it's cooking?" Nope. :)

So, how the heck did I do that? Well, for one, the secret's in the ingredients themselves: the walnuts not only give the chicken an incredible flavor and texture but when they're cooked, they release their natural, healthy oils, which keeps the chicken moist and also prevents it from sticking to the pan. The walnuts and Parmesan also seal in moisture and flavor as they form a crust. The cooking technique used in this recipe really does work, and after you try it out for yourself, you'll be amazed at how well it works.

Not only is this dish low in saturated fat, but the ingredients in this dish have some amazing health properties, which are of particular significance to athletes, although they can certainly benefit anyone:

--Parmesan is one of the highest protein, naturally low-fat cheeses there is. It's important to feed your muscle lean protein, especially right after exercise, to help it repair itself and grow.
--Walnuts and flaxseeds are chock full of Omega-3s, which help reduce post-exercise inflammation.
--Chicken contains the highest amount of valine of any food. Valine is one of the essential branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) that help build muscle.
--The fresh herbs in this dish contain phytonutrients, which contain beneficial antioxidants.

Made this dish for lunch today and Erik gave it two thumbs way up. Otherwise, you wouldn't be seeing this recipe here. ;)

In fact, Erik's verdict is exceptionally useful, not only for perfecting recipes, but also because it's basically a litmus test to predict whether or not other people will like it as well. If he likes a dish, it's almost always a big hit with others. It's simply uncanny how many times this happens. I can't tell you why or how this works exactly; it just does. It doesn't matter what type of recipe I'm writing, his opinion is so on the mark that it's like he's some kind of freakishly accurate fortuneteller. ;) When I said as much to him, his response to this observation was this: "I just know what most people like." Not sure the explanation is as simple as that, but who knows, maybe it is. Lol. Bottom line: If he likes a recipe, it'll usually make its way into a cookbook. :-D

Walnut & Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Fresh Herbs, Served with a Side of Steamed Broccoli

8 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets (2 4 oz. fillets)
1/2 c. walnut pieces
1/4 c. ground flaxseed
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions: A half hour before cooking, remove chicken from the refrigerator and allow to reach room temperature. Set aside. Add all remaining ingredients, minus the egg and lemon juice to a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Transfer to a large, shallow bowl and set aside. Crack egg into an another large shallow bowl, add lemon juice, and beat together. Set aside, next to the bowl of nut and cheese mixture. Heat a large (12-13") saute pan on high for 30 seconds. Then reduce heat to medium low. Dip chicken fillets, one at a time, into the egg mixture first, shaking off excess, and then transfer them to the bowl with the walnut-cheese mixture, coating chicken with crumbs on all sides and pressing to adhere. Be sure to wash off your hands between each dipping to make the chicken easier to handle. Place chicken fillets into the pan. Chicken should sizzle as it hits the pan. Sauté chicken for about 5-6 minutes per side, or until golden brown and the juices run clear. (You might have to adjust the cooking time slightly, depending upon thickness.) Cut into the chicken with a fork and knife to test for doneness. (Chicken should be juicy but no longer pink or fleshy on the inside.) Remove from heat and place onto plates. Let rest for a few minutes. (The meat will continue to cook as it rests, so be sure not to overcook it.) Serve chicken with a side of steamed broccoli.

Yield: 2 servings.

Chef's Notes: Here are quick directions for steaming broccoli: Bring a pot of water, lined with a steamer basket, to a rolling boil. The water line should just reach the bottom of the steamer basket. When water has come to a boil, add broccoli, close lid, and steam for 10 minutes. Immediately remove from heat and do not cook any longer than this; otherwise broccoli will overcook while it rests in the pot. (Properly steamed broccoli should retain its color as well as a bit of crunch and give.) Quickly drain broccoli into a colander and allow to cool for a few minutes. Season as desired and serve.

Adaptations: To make this dish Paleo, simply omit the salt, Parmesan, and flaxseed. Also, if you'd like to experiment by substituting other types of nuts, I suggest trying almond slivers, pecans, or macadamia nuts, all of which will complement this dish rather nicely. You could also try using a combination of different nuts for a more complex flavor.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

0 Recipe #346: Buffalo Chili

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The book Paleo Fitness has more or less wrapped, and so now I'm focusing my full attention on writing the next 7 Weeks to Fitness book, The Athlete's Cookbook (by Brett Stewart and myself). And yes, in case you were wondering, this particular recipe, like many others I've already shared here, will be making its way into this book. :) This way, you'll get a better idea of some of the recipes/content that'll be in the book. And just like the previous fitness and nutritional lifestyle titles I've worked on from the 7 Weeks to Fitness series of the same name, (i.e., The Athlete's Cookbook), the recipes I've created in this book will contain useful nutrition facts about the recipe ingredients and their sports nutrition application, i.e., specifically how the book's recipes can be used to reach a higher level of athletic performance. Speaking of which, if you'd like to read about the health properties of buffalo, you're welcome to read about that in a previous recipe post I'd written for a buffalo burger recipe located here.

Today, a friend of mine from my martial arts school came over for a cooking lesson, and the below recipe is what we made. We had a great time cooking together! By the time we'd finished cooking, we'd both built up a ferocious appetite, and couldn't wait to dig in. He was so hungry, he had two helpings! My friend loved the chili and took some leftovers home with him for his mom to try, who, he told me, also enjoyed the chili as well. He also seemed to like cooking and was a quick learner as well. In fact, tried his hand at making the chili the very next day. Even more impressive was the fact that he tried to make it from memory, because I'd created the recipe while we were cooking and at the time, hadn't yet had the chance to type up the recipe. :)

The nice thing about cooking with friends is that, when you're done in the kitchen, you're rewarded for your efforts with a meal. :) Plus, it's fun and relaxing to sit down with friends to enjoy a meal you just cooked together. For me, a huge part of the enjoyment of cooking with friends or teaching them how to cook isn't just the act of cooking itself or the pats on the back we give each when a meal turns out well. It's so much more than that. It's about the enjoyment we derive from eating and sharing a meal together, the creation or solidification of bonds we form with each other via the experience of cooking, and the satisfaction that goes along with giving, and sharing something with, friends and family that's both tangible, i.e., the food, and intangible (the experiences, etc.): When it comes to teaching, I love seeing them enjoy the process -- the discovery, the fun, and the satisfaction that they derive learning something new and the confidence-building sense of accomplishment they get from the hands-on experience of cooking. And, if I did my "job" correctly [by showing them how much fun (and useful!) cooking can be], then hopefully my own enthusiasm and love of cooking will catch fire and take hold in them as well.

Simply put, it makes me happy to make my friends and family happy too. :)

Cooking and eating together are often, without a doubt, some of the most basic (and dare I say, even profound) joys of life. Children are born knowing how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, and as adults, witnessing and recognizing the truth in this realization is a great reminder that sometimes getting back to basics is one of the healthiest and refreshing things we can do to restore balance in our lives. In that way, cooking is not just a return to that sense of enjoyment, but also a way to reconnect with that very basic, visceral energy. I'm not saying that cooking itself is simple, because heaven knows, it can also be highly complex too, but rather that it can be restorative -- a stress relief valve, an escape or moment of respite to unplug from the world and leave everything else behind for a moment, a window into new and helpful insights, a chance to connect (or reconnect) with ourselves and others as well as with our own senses and creative energies, etc., etc. Sharing knowledge of food and cooking, cooking and eating together, feeding others -- it's something so fundamental, so primeval, so rewarding, and so nourishing in all senses of the word.

Buffalo Chili

1 lb. ground buffalo meat
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large bay leaf
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 1/2 c. yellow onion, peeled and diced (about 1 small onion)
1 1/2 c. red bell pepper, diced (about 1 large red bell pepper)
1 1/2 c. green bell pepper, diced (about 1 large green bell pepper)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
14 oz. water (fill empty crushed tomatoes can 1/2 way with water)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 15.5 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15.5 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced and densely packed (or 1 tsp. dried oregano)
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
1/2 Tbsp. Mexican-style chili powder (mild)
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 15.5 oz. can California olives, pitted and sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds (optional)
1/4 c. cilantro (or more), finely minced (for garnish)

Directions: Thirty minutes before serving, remove meat from refrigerator and let rest, to reach room temperature. (This allows for even heat distribution during cooking.) Next, thoroughly combine all dry spices (cumin, paprika, coriander, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and salt) and fresh, finely minced oregano in a small bowl and set aside. In a large wide stock pot, sear meat on high heat for about 10 minutes or until completely browned (all the way through), stirring frequently and breaking up the meat into small pieces using a heat-proof spatula. Remove from heat. Drain liquid fat from pot, transfer meat to a bowl, and set aside. Thoroughly scrub/clean and wash out pot and place back onto stove top range. Heat olive oil on high heat until glistening. Then reduce heat to low, and saute bay leaf, garlic, and onions for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Next, add the meat back in, then the green and red bell peppers, followed by the crushed tomatoes, water, tomato paste, vinegar, black beans, kidney beans, and spice mix (from the bowl you set aside earlier), and stir. Simmer (i.e., cook below the boil) for about 15 minutes, or until peppers are just cooked enough so that they still retain their color and a bit of crunch. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then stir in olives, if using. Discard bay leaf and serve.

Yield: 8-10 servings if made with the olives, and about 6-8 servings if made without them.

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