Last weekend, I got to express my undying love for avocados by participating in a cooking contest in my neighborhood: the first annual guac-off at The Painted Burro. It’s exactly what it sounds like – an epic guacamole contest. A bunch of us Yelpers submitted recipes online and the top 12 recipies were chosen to compete in person, with judging by fellow Yelpers and local “celebs” (our Yelp community manager, a city councilor, and the restaurant’s chef).
Presenting my plate to the judges
My recipe was lovingly named “Sucker Punch” thanks to the unusual ingredients I added – lemon and curry powder. It also had all your guacamole basics – avocados, chopped cocktail tomatoes, chopped onions, garlic, salt, pepper.
I didn’t win the contest, but I did have a great time and learned some serious lessons for my next competition.
Lessons learned at the guac-off:
- Ask a bajillion questions. Originally, we were going to have to find and pay for the avocados ourselves, and needed to bring a GALLON of guacamole. I was able to talk to the organizer and get the expectations down to a reasonable/not cost-prohibitive level. The restaurant actually gave everyone the avocados in the end, which was amazing.
- Have a plan B. Apparently some avocados were not as good depending on what day you got them. I got lucky, but it’s important to always have a backup plan when it comes to your ingredients.
- If you don’t know the rules, exploit them. What does “prepare before” mean? Who is stopping you from bringing your own chips? Figure out what your ideal situation looks like, then make it happen. The worst someone can do is tell you to stop (or disqualify you, if it actually is a rule that you’re breaking).
- Bacon will always win the popular vote. I mean, it’s bacon. The competition should just end there. Just make sure it’s labeled for the vegetarians in the crowd (there were some seriously unhappy people who didn’t know they were eating meat until later).
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lots of love to my sous chef Sara – cooking with her was the best part of this day!
- Be prepared. Did you think the contest was over when you delivered your goods? WRONG. We then had to plate (which I barely prepared for), present (which I was totally unprepared for) and rally people to win the popular vote (which I was too nervous for). The contest is going until the winner is announced, so you should be prepared for every step of the way.
- Don’t store guacamole in a bag. Seriously. Don’t. It’s gross just to watch it get plated. Surely you have some Tupperware somewhere?
- Don’t focus too much on winning. I ate some delicious food, spent the day with one of my best friends, and made a new friend who shared her awesome story about meeting her boyfriend on LiveJournal in 2003. Be still, my 11th grade heart!
The makings of a great Sunday afternoon
I’ll definitely be throwing my hat in the ring for future contests – I’ve got my eye on Fluff Fest next year. Let me know if you hear of any other cool competitions in Boston, and share your stories about cooking adventures in the comments below!
Special thanks to my family for brainstorming some very silly names and listening to me make my way through the rules, Sara for helping me make this giant batch o‘ guacamole, and Katie and my coworkers for making good use of the leftovers.
This simple recipe is great for the end of a busy week and can accommodate almost any ingredients you have around. Sub couscous for quinoa, add in other veggies, or include other proteins if you have them handy.
Quinoa and Brussels Sprouts
- 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
- 1 lb shredded Brussels sprouts (I got them precut from Trader Joe’s – one bag will do it!)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped into thin strips
- 2 tbsp lemon juice – about one lemon worth
- salt and pepper to taste
- goat cheese (optional, for topping)
- Cook the quinoa – one cup of quinoa to 2-3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 15-20 minutes for liquid is absorbed. Let rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.
- Add the oil, onion, Brussels sprouts, salt/pepper, and half the lemon juice to a frying pan over medium heat. Stir frequently – when the sprouts get bright green, add more lemon juice and bell pepper. Stir for about 7-10 minutes total, until sprouts are cooked but still crunchy.
- Add quinoa to the pan of veggies and mix well. Serve hot or cold. (I topped mine with goat cheese crumbles – SO GOOD!)
This made about four salad-sized servings – can’t wait to eat it for lunch later this week.
I am the definition of a breakfast person.
I could eat it three times a day – eggs for breakfast, cereal for lunch, crepes for dinner. Bring me to a diner at any hour and I am 99.9% likely to order hash and poached eggs. I simply can’t live without a good meal to start off my day. But when I combine my love for breakfast with my tendency to hit snooze a million times (right family?), it gets to be an expensive habit that ends up with me stopped in at Dunks on my way to work.
Luckily, I saw this pin the other day and decided to whip up some planned-ahead breakfasts so I could save some money and time in the morning. These tartlets came out great, and in 45 minutes, I was able to pack up 6 healthy breakfasts to eat and freeze for the week ahead.
Quiche Breakfast Tartlets
- 5-8 oz of baby spinach
- 1 cup baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 2 links chicken sausage (optional)
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated (low-fat preferred, or another kind of shredded cheese works too!)
- 3 eggs and 6 egg whites (I use them from the carton) (alternatively, you can use 5 eggs)
- Dash skim milk
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a frying pan, heat up 1 tsp olive oil and cook the mushrooms. Cut the chicken sausage into small pieces (1/2 dime sized or so) and add to mushrooms, browning lightly. Remove from pan. Wilt spinach in frying pan. add to mushrooms and sausage.
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour into lightly greased muffin tins, making sure that each section has all types of filling as well as some liquid.
- Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, until edges are browned and tops are solid. Remove from tins and let sit before freezing/storing.
By the end, you should have 12 muffin-sized crustless quiches (mine actually made 5 mini muffins as well – use it all up!) which are each worth 2 PointsPlus each (I recommend two as one serving). In one travel-sized bite, you have cheese, eggs, meat, and veggies, or as I like to call it “perfection.”
These quiches are super versatile to whatever you have in your kitchen – asparagus and red pepper, cheese and more cheese, garlic and onion, you name it. My recommendation: go light on the fat, especially in the cheese. I only had full fat cheddar around, and these were a little more oily than I would usually eat, but they’re still quite healthy and definitely delicious.
What’s your go-to breakfast food?
There is basically never a time when I don’t want a stuffed artichoke since my college roommate first introduced me to this delicacy. (Hi Jill!) It’s not the fastest thing in the world to make, but it’s completely worth it, especially when you can start eating it before going out with your friends and finish the rest when you come home starving after a night of dancing… if you can stand to not eat it all in one sitting.
- 1 cup Italian bread crumbs (or plain bread crumbs with Italian seasoning added)
- 2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped garlic (I use jarred but this is about 1 1/2 cloves)
- 2 small to medium artichokes
Stuffing in progress
- Lightly toast bread crumbs in a frying pan – no oil needed. Put water on to boil with a steaming basket big enough to hold your artichokes upright.
- Cut off the top 1/4 (or so) of the artichoke with a knife, and trim the stem except for the last 1/2 inch or so. Fan out the remaining segments of the artichokes and cut off the spiky tips with scissors. You should only need to cut off about the top 1/3 per section but you should make sure you get all the sharp bits even if it means losing a little more of the ‘choke.
- Mix everything else together and start stuffing! Start at the outer pieces and put the bread crumbs as far down in each segment as you can. If you separate the pieces as you go, you should be able to get a good amount in each section. When you get near the middle, keep stuffing – that’s the best part!
- Stand up the artichokes in your steamer basket over boiling water, cover, and cook for 45-60 minutes depending on the size of your artichokes. Add more water to the pot as needed.
C’est tout! Just peel off the segments and eat them from the base, and then attack the middle with the fork once you get past the rougher outer layers.
Did your college roomies ever share tasty treats from home? What do you put inside your stuffed artichokes?
I cannot in good conscience tell you how to make this soup, since I did it entirely wrong. My version involved:
- the smoke alarm going off while I was in the shower
- “cooking” the butternut squash in three different ways
- splattering boiling soup all over my arms and my stovetop
But boy, doesn’t it look pretty? It was tasty too, once I started breathing again.
More when I actually get this right…
Things I love: coming home to the smell of something cooking.
Things I hate: anything that could feasibly burn my house down.
I have a bit of a complicated relationship with the idea of crockpots. I just don’t trust them. I know that they work for tons of people, but I just can’t wrap my head around intentionally leaving something cooking in my kitchen when I’m so far away. So in my quest to get over this, I decided to take on a classic crockpot recipe today – with a twist – while I was out and about in the neighborhood.
The results were confidence inspiring and actually amazingly delicious – more so than anything I’ve made this way before. The recipe is modified from a “Crockpot: the original slow cooker” cookbook I nabbed for $5 outside of Borders once upon a time.
Other than the delicious taste, this recipe wins because it just involves chopping some things up (no braising the meat, etc.), cooks at one temp the whole time, and doesn’t require you to buy tons of things you’ll never use in another recipe. It’s also adaptable to almost any veggie – you can just use this as a starting point. Definitely recommend for anyone who’s looking to spice up the old classic this winter!
Asian Beef Stew – Crockpot Style
- 1 onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 1 1/2 pounds round steak, cut up – I got mine pre-cut into stew meat sized chunks at the deli
- 1 head of celery, sliced
- 3 carrots, peeled and sliced – make your slices pretty thin, my carrots still had some crunch to them!
- 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (really, can use as little as 1 cup or as much as you want)
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 cup beef broth (look for low sodium and low fat versions)
- 1/3 cup hoisin sauce - the one weird ingredient!
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 cup frozen peas
- Combine onion, beef, celery, carrots, and mushrooms in a large crockpot (the book recommends the 5-quart version, as though you have multiple sizes just filling your cupboards).
- Combine orange juice, beef broth, hoisin sauce, cornstarch, and curry powder in a small bowl – whisk together until cornstarch is dissolved.
- Pour into crockpot and give it a good stir – cover and cook on high for 5 hours or until the beef is tender. When the beef is almost done (go ahead, peek!), stir in a cup of frozen peas and cook for a final 20 minutes or so.
Serve over rice, share, freeze, and enjoy!
This is definitely going in my list of easy favorites. It has a great warmth to it, between the spiciness of the sauce and the curry. The beef was so tender and tasty – I’m really looking forward to eating this all week. Seriously!
What’s your favorite crockpot creation? Had any major flops you learned along the way?
No lightbulb required!
With Christmas approaching, I pulled out one of my great gifts from last year – a Silpat baking mat. I wanted to see if this mat could amplify my love for tofu (and if starting cooking before I was starving would give me time to bake tofu for once) and I was not disappointed. Here are a few steps to perfection:
Easy Baked Tofu
- 8 oz of firm tofu (I used TJ’s small block, but you could just double this if you were working with a bigger block of tofu)
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 3/4 tbsp soy sauce (or so – I intended to use more but mine ran out!)
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
- Dash of hot sauce
- salt, pepper, and garlic powder as desired
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the tofu into thin slabs, about 1/4 or so thick and as wide as you can get them and still have them stay intact when you mix them with the sauce.
- Mix together the remaining ingredients in a bowl with a fork. Add the tofu and let sit for 5 minutes (or longer if possible).
- Place slabs of tofu on a baking sheet (I used mine lined with a Silpat mat) and bake for 10-14 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Enjoy! I ate mine with spaghetti squash and poured the remaining marinade over the whole dish (bonuses of cooking with tofu: you can stop to eat the ingredients at any time AND you can reuse any leftover marinade safely.)
PS: I do actually cook more than just tofu – proof is here! For Thanksgiving, I made a new Brussels sprout dish and lots of different egg concoctions. What have you made or eaten lately?
Yes, it exists. I love tofu in any form, but this recipe is the only one I can make and want to eat the tofu raw, and a few pieces usually get sacrificed to “taste testing” before they can reach the pan.
All it takes is mixing a few items together:
2 tbps Mirin (a sweet Japanese seasoning made from rice alcohol – keep this in your cupboard for tons of recipes!)
1 tbsp sesame oil (hint: you can get this cheap at the Christmas Tree Shop! I use it basically every day.)
1 tsp Tamari (soy sauce)
1 tsp Teriyaki sauce (I used the low sodium version)
Cut up the tofu into small cubes and pour the sauce over the top. If you have time, try to marinade for an hour or two, stirring every once in a while. If you’re in a rush, just let this sit while you prep everything else.
You can either add the extra sauce to the pan after, or use it on a side dish – I threw mine, along with some extra Mirin and Tamari, over some asparagus I was cooking at the same time. Incredible!
What’s your favorite way to give tofu some flavor?
An acorn squash shell, to be exact.
My obsession with simply-cooked acorn squash has me buying them in multiples every time I go to the store. Settling down to one for dinner (or as part of dinner) is the perfect way to end a blustery fall day.
All it takes is a small acorn squash, goat cheese, and brown sugar. Start by cutting the squash in half, and scooping out the seeds and the pulp with a spoon. Then put both halves of the squash cut-side down in a small microwave-safe casserole dish (mine is about 10″ across) with 1/2 inch or so of water in the bottom. The goal is to give the squash enough water to steam, but not so much that it will take a long time to get hot.
Cook on high for 5 minutes, then poke the outside of the squash to see if it’s soft. My small squash tonight took 15 minutes to cook fully, but it’s a good idea to check every 5 minutes and then just add more time to the clock if it needs more. The inside should be bright orange-yellow and the outside should be tender when poked for it to be done to my standards.
Remove from the dish, top with goat cheese, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of brown sugar. And voila – you’ve got dinner! This is also really good reheated the next day, but I’ve only made it that far once and have succumbed to eating the whole thing every other time. If it’s all you eat for dinner, you might be hungry later – this dish is only worth 3 PointsPlus (aka super healthy).
What’s your favorite fall food?