Recipe: BBQ Bean Chili

It’s winter.  Officially.  Although, at times, it doesn’t quite feel like winter.  Regardless, it’s the end of January, and I’m craving my warming and hearty (yet healthy) soups and stews and chilies.  I won’t lie, with recent talk at the office of the Annual Chili Cook-off (I won last year!), my mind has been on creating a new chili to cook up for the big competition.

This past weekend, while doing some recipe testing with cauliflower…I decided to do something completely different and make some chili…from scratch.

This meant on Saturday afternoon, I had dry heirloom beans soaking in water on my counter top.  When I do something…I do it right.  Now…if you don’t have the time, patience, or a clue as to how to work with dry beans…no worries, this recipe will work with canned beans as well.  Just use 2 cans of tri-blend beans and you will get similar results.

That being said…I wanted something smokey…with that true homestyle flair.  So…instead of tomato sauce…this chili got the bbq sauce treatment.  And I have some local, amazing bbq sauce on hand…lots of it in fact…so I got a little chefy and a little creative.  And the result…left the people who tried it raving.

SO…I figured I would just go ahead and share the recipe with you!

Recipe: BBQ Bean Chili


Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 (4 0z) can mild chiles
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup dry beans, soaked overnight (I used Epicurean Specialty Heirloom Bean Blend – which contains beans, peas & lentils)
  • 1 cup bbq sauce (I used Masters Hand with Integrity [Medium])


Directions:

Prep the beans.  Place beans on a sheet pan or clean towel.  Remove and discard any shriveled or broken beans and any stones or debris.  Rinse thoroughly in cold water.

Soak overnight. Rinse and place in a large pot, covered with fresh water.  Bring water to a boil for 3 minutes, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 60-90 minutes, until beans are tender.  Reserve a cup of the cooking water.

Line a large pot with 1/4 cup water over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic, and chiles.  Sauté until soft.

Add in chili powder, oregano, cumin and cayenne; stir for 2 minutes.

Mix in the cooked beans, 1/2 cup of the reserved bean cooking liquid and the bbq sauce.  Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat and simmer until theflavors blend and the chili thickens.  About 20-30 minutes.  I found I needed to a the rest of the bean water to get it to the texture I like…but vegetable broth would also work.

Garnish with a sliced avocado!

(Of course, you can garnish this however you like…sour cream, cilantro, grated cheese…but I love me a good, ripe avocado on top).

ENJOY!

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LOVED this chili from the first taste.  It’s tangy, it’s got a kick to it, but it’s not overwhelming.  Not only that, it’s warming and hearty…and healthy!  How’s that for winning?

Go ahead, cook some up!!  It freezes well, but, trust me, it may not be around long enough to need to hit the freezer!

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Product Review: Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo)

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Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo)

Product: Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) – $4.99+

I love discovering products I might have not seen, might be new, or just may not have noticed in the past when I go grocery shopping.  Such is the tale of me and a line of frozen entrees by the company Buen Sabor.

Whole Foods.  Freezer section.  At least, that was the beginning of this tale for me.  Grocery shopping on a budget isn’t easy…but sometimes you just have to make exceptions to the budget rule.  Especially when you have events to be at every Tuesday evening (running event) by 6 p.m.  I don’t like to turn up late, because then I feel like I need to try to catch up to everyone, and with the current day-to-day status of the injured hip…I just don’t like to take risks.

Taking risks with food that fits into my kind of restrictive diet…that is sometimes worth splurging on and taking a risk.

So, yes…Buen Sabor.

Buen Sabor was created by Sarah, who grew up on an organic farm in Maine.  With the help of her mother, she used to cure, can, freeze, and dehydrate almost everything they ate.  The family freezer became an invaluable asset to a busy family that wanted to enjoy humble foods that tasted great.  When Sarah became a new mom in 2008, she delved into the quest to solve the “busy persons” food dilemma once again.  And, with all that she learned growing up on the farm, she harnessed that knowledge and started Buen Sabor.  The team at Buen Sabor is passionate about offering simple, crave-worthy foods that…yes…come from the freezer.

In fact, Buen Sabor actually wants you to become a “freezer believer.”  One thing freezer meals have going for it is convenience.  But another thing is…given the right ingredients…they can actually be a clean eat.  Buen Sabor is deeply committed to creating the best possible (and super convenient) food.  All of the sauces are made from scratch, their vegetables are picked and cooked at the height of their freshness, and the proteins are cooked just right and then frozen immediately to preserve the dishes most naturally.  Don’t knock delicious frozen meals…simply put, freezing food is nature’s pause button…it is, literally, the most natural preservative there is.  Frozen foods are nutritious, have real nutritional value, are convenient, and naturally preserves foods.

Buen Sabor aims to build a business that creates as many happy customers possible, who are able to spend more time doing the things they love.  They want their products to exceed all expectations as far as quality, focusing on freshness, flavor, and nutritional value.

But do they achieve this?

Well, I picked up one of their vegan and gluten-free meals at Whole Foods that afternoon, to keep in my freezer for those rushed, hurried, “I need to go run hill repeats” Tuesday nights.  Leave work, rush home, eat, change, out the door to drive over the river to meet with a group who simply…runs up a hill…jogs down…repeats it for some set amount of time.  It means Tuesdays are rather stressful and rushed.  So I grabbed the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) for me and my roomie opted for one of the meaty dishes…the Arroz Con Queso Y Trocitos De Chorizo (Savory Chorizo-Seasoned Rice With Cheese).

Super easy to warm up.  I made Cathy’s first, simply by cutting a slit into the plastic on top of the tray and warming it up for 5 minutes.  It sits for 1 minute and then…ready to eat.  It doesn’t LOOK amazing like it does on the box…but it smelled good.  And when Cathy ate it, she said it was good…for a frozen meal.

Okay…

So, needless to say, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo).  Just like with the meaty one, the vegan one also had the plastic film sliced through to allow everything to steam.  Into the microwave for about 4-5 minutes.  I let it go for 5, because I have an old microwave.  Peel back the film and stir, letting it stand for one minute.

And…much like Cathy’s…upon taking it out of the microwave and pulling back the plastic, the meal really doesn’t look appetizing.  It looks…like a frozen microwave meal.  The picture on the box is GORGEOUS…but this is just sort of…one tone…one note…brownish.  LOL!  Over rice.  That being said, once I stirred it up, it looked…slightly more appetizing.

Looks aside, I decided it was time to test the frozen meal waters myself.  And, you know what?  I was actually really surprised.  I mean, packed with flavors.  Just loaded with a hint of spice, fresh vegetables, and rice that ended up cooking to perfection.  I was expecting something bland, perhaps tasting as unappetizing as it looked.  But I was blown away by the flavors.  The chickpeas and potato reheated gorgeously.  Nothing got mushy  And I love that quinoa is included for a bit more of a protein boost.  Picadillo translates into “little (savory-yummy) chopped things.  And the aim of Buen Sabor with the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) was to deliver “a delightful dance of flavors with roots in the Caribbean and Spain.”  I might have devoured mine long before Cathy (who had a headstart on hers) finished hers.  A little spicy, but I have an iron stomach for the most part, and I knew this wouldn’t bother me while running hard up some hills in a local park.  SO tasty.  So good.  And really good for you too!  I loved the spice and the bit of heat that each bite brought.  And I love that brown rice is used instead of white.  YES!!  This company is speaking my language.  None of the vegetables were mushy or soft.  Everything had great texture and heated through perfectly.  All-in-all…a dinner win!  A convenient, easy dinner win.

Speaking of being really good for you, let’s take a look at the ingredients that Buen Sabor puts into the Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo)!  One thing that Buen Sabor prides itself on is that they don’t add any hormones, antibiotics or preservatives to their food.  Their products are 100% natural.  Pure and simple goodness.  The Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo) is made from brown rice, onions, quinoa, chickpeas, water, sweet potato, tomatoes, red peppers, poblano chili peppers, olive oil, spice, sea salt, garlic, corn starch, and smoked sweet paprika.  All real ingredients.  Nothing fake. Nothing that has me questioning my dietary choices.  I love that.  This particular meal is gluten-free, vegan, contains no added sugar, and has no trans fat.

Now, let’s discuss nutrition, shall we?  A serving of the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo) is 1 cup (159 grams) and there are 2 servings per container.  Except, if you’re making it an actual meal…you’ll eat the entire thing like I did.  No worries, nothing bad or outrageous with these stats.  For one (1) serving, however, you will be taking in 160 calories, 5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar, and 5 grams protein.  LOVE IT.  Even after running 8 miles of hill repeats, I still felt full.  And the heat didn’t bother my system at all.  Good food to fuel a tough run that day.

Check your local natural foods stores for the Buen Sabor products.  Honestly, you won’t regret it.  Freezer section.  Good stuff.  Very good stuff.  I think I might have to pick up a few more…at least until this group stops meeting…which, sadly, happens in a couple of weeks.  But, it’s always good to have a quick meal on hand…because you never know when time might get away from you or something might come up!  Buen Sabor…has your back!

Product Review: Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers

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Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burger

Product: Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burger – $6.99+

There is just something so amazing and comforting about a good veggie burger.  The problem that I find, thank you Celiac Disease, is that most veggie burgers on the market use some sort of vital wheat gluten or gluten-containing binder to give them their “meaty” texture.  It sort of takes all the veggie burger eating fun out of it for the gluten-free.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many gluten-free veggie burger options in the freezer sections these days.  I’ve pretty much tried them all.  And they’re a wide range of amazing perfection to…eh…it’s alright.

And just when I think I have pretty much sampled them all, my roommate finds a new one to try.  The Brand…Luna Burger.

Not familiar with Luna Burger?  Neither was I at the time.  But there it was (only one gluten-free variety among the various Luna Burger line), in the freezer section of Columbus, Ohio’s very own natural food store, Raisin Rack.  I. LOVE. RAISIN. RACK.  It’s required shopping whenever I go to Columbus.  No joke.  It really is.  Grocery budgets are planned around the Raisin Rack visit.

Anyway, I digress.  So, here was this small, unassuming box containing two (2) veggie burger patties…by Luna Burger.  Luna Burger is actually based out of Columbus, Ohio.  This company makes artisan veggie burgers with Ohio-grown ingredients.  How amazing is that?  The only gluten-free option they have is the BBQ Burger, but their vegan line-up includes Classic, Garden Thyme, Farmhouse Chili, Peanut-Cilantro, and Kickstart Sausage Patties.  I wish I could try all of them, but, alas…the BBQ Luna Burger is it for me.  Luna Burgers are available at many of Central Ohio farmers’ markets, as well as stores and restaurants throughout Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.  They can also be ordered for delivery through Green B.E.A.N. Delivery (which I have and use) in certain markets.  And, yes…these can also be ordered online.

This past week, since returning from New York City, it’s been a live out of the pantry/fridge/freezer week.  Use up some things and not spend money on more groceries.  HA!  I am on a very tight budget these days thanks to a raise in rent..and those constant medical bills.  BLARF!  So, yesterday, I was digging around for something to have for dinner and I remembered that I had a box of the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers in my freezer.  I had just picked up some Allergen Free Sandwich Buns from my local allergen-free bakery (Annie May’s Sweet Cafe), and had some greens, tomatoes and onions that needed some using up.  I also had some Alexia Fries in my freezer too…so it turned into a burger and fries night.

I love burger and fries night.  Not going to lie.  The problem is finding a decent gluten-free veggie burger that doesn’t squish out of the bun or crumble with the first bite.  It is nearly impossible.  Not only that, I don’t want something that is flavorless or tastes like cardboard…or worse.   Been there, experienced that.  I want something that makes me feel like I’m eating a real burger.  I was hoping that the Luna Burgers would live up to my own high gluten-free veggie burger expectations!

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My amazing veggie burger & fries night made possible by Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers

So, I popped the fries into the oven for the 16 minutes it would take to cook them.  Then, I got out my skillet and turned on medium heat.  Opening up the box, I found two thick (yes…THICK) four ounce (4 oz) patties ready to hit the heat.  I placed each one on the skillet and began to slowly cook it per the instructions on the box.  When I flipped the fries and set the sandwich buns on the baking sheet to toast lightly, I flipped the burgers too.  A few pieces flaked off, but for the most part, the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers held their own in the cooking process.  I was actually impressed.  No trying to piece burgers back together.  That was a nice change of pace for sure.  When the fries were done, I began to layer up the sandwich buns to build a huge…hefty…but amazing veggie burger.  Bun…mustard…greens…Luna Burger patty…tomato, onion, avocado…more mustard…and the other half of the sandwich bun.  Oh…I was already trying to figure out how I was going to get my mouth around the entire thing.  It was a beautiful thing for sure.

But the big test always comes with that first bite.  And this burger delivered.  I was really impressed with how the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers cooked.  But I was even more impressed with how they held up when being handled and eaten.  Honestly, most gluten-free veggie burgers crumble and fall apart with each bite.  They squish out of the bun and lack that “meaty” texture that you want…even with a veggie burger.  The opposite was the case with the Luna Burger BBQ Veggie Burger.  I loved the texture.  It was soft, but got that nice crust on each side, giving it this great burger texture.  It didn’t fall out of my bun or crumble when I picked it up and took large bites.  I was beyond impressed with the myriad of flavors that came in this burger as well.  I don’t know if I got that smokey BBQ flavor that, but I did get a little bit of heat and sweetness.  And it definitely made for an amazing and interesting (in a good way) flavor profile.  Totally hoping somewhere around here carries these, because I would LOVE to have them in my freezer again.  Delicious!!

Let’s discuss the ingredients that go into the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers.  These burgers are made from brown rice, black beans, onion, brown rice flour, carrots, tomatoes, peaches, sunflower seeds, kale, molasses, garlic, jalapeno peppers, apple cider vinegar, salt, ground mustard, and black pepper.  This burger is gluten-free, wheat-free, corn-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soy-free, and contains no extra oils.

As far as nutrition goes, Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers live up to their healthy packaging.  A serving size is 1 burger (114 grams) and there are two (2) burgers per box.  A serving will provide you with 170 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 310 mg sodium, 31 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 3 grams sugars, and 7 grams of protein.  This is a filling, healthy, completely vegan product that makes you feel good about eating it.  I mean, Luna Burger uses locally sourced fruits, grains, vegetables, and herbs.  LOVE it.

The Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers definitely rank up there in gluten-free veggie burger options.  Not my #1 choice, but definitely close.  Perfect texture, flavor, and so satisfying.  You can’t go wrong.   Need to treat yourself to some comfort food…turn to Luna Burger for your veggie burger needs.

But remember…only the BBQ variety is gluten-free and vegan!

Life’s Too Short to Miss the Sweeter Things

Two fun facts about me:

1. I love eating healthy
2. I love sweets (especially chocolate)

What we have here, my friends, is a constant battle of sheer willpower.  But, the fact of the matter is…sometimes you just have to find a way to treat yourself.  Naturally, I stick to my necessary gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian lifestyle…however, this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy some of the finer things in life.

That being said, 2016 is a year of change for me.  I’m trying to improve myself, my body, my soul, my mindset…I’m trying to reach both long-term and short-term goals.  And part of that is definitely making certain tweaks to the diet.

I’m not saying I am cutting out sweets and desserts entirely.  That’s inhuman.  But, I am cutting back on them.  And once the current ones in the pantry are moved out…they aren’t coming back in.  I buy gluten-free…so I’m too cheap to just toss the stuff away.

That being said, I’m always game for trying new ways to make an indulgence healthier.  And awhile back, the amazing Lottie Bildirici, better known in the social media world as “Running on Veggies” posted about the treat she made for Kara Goucher (yes…THE Kara Goucher) when she was coming to NYC to run the NYC Marathon.  Kara chose blondies as her treat and Bildirici got to work researching and coming up with a recipe that would not only seem like a treat, but be made with real ingredients, nothing processed, and be healthy.  When the recipe posted, I was beyond intrigued.  Granted, my foray into baking using beans as a base resulted in brownies that tasted like black beans, so I did have my reservations going into this…but I decided to give it a try.

Blondies made without flour…and by using garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and dates as the sweetener.  Well…there was only one way to find out how this would turn out.  I hoped for the best, since Kara Goucher was a fan…but…hey…some things you have to try yourself.

So this was what I put into my food processor this past Sunday afternoon:

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Everything but the dairy-free dark chocolate chips, that is.  Any nut butter (or nut-free butter) will work, but I’m a huge fan, and an ambassador, for NuttZo…and it really is the best stuff on the market.  Find it.  Trust me…it’s worth the price!

After giving everything a whirl in the food processor, I was left with a light and fluffy fatter.  I folded in the chocolate chips, sprayed down some muffin tins and began to evenly distribute the batter into 24 muffin tins.

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After baking for around 40 minutes, I removed the pans from the oven and let everything sit, untouched for over an hour.  At that point, I moved everything to a sheet pan (carefully) and then into the freezer.  But not without trying one.

First of all, they don’t taste bean-y…and they don’t taste like dates either.  They actually taste like a decadent little dessert or muffin.  Especially when warmed up in the microwave for about 30 seconds or longer.  Although, I love them frozen too…but I’m weird like that.  These are an amazing treat and one that I don’t feel bad about eating because…it was made from real food.

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I know a lot of people look down on those who enjoy a treat every now and again…but the fact of the matter is…we’ve got it all wrong.  Not all calories are created equal.  Just like now not all carbohydrates and fats are either.  That’s the being said, I am a firm believer in counting nutrition, not calories.  And that’s what making something like this is all about.

And trust me…they are SO good.

If you want to give them a try…you can get the recipe here!  They are easy to make, and delicious.  Trust me…you’ll want to keep these on hand!  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack or dessert…these are truly a delicious and healthy treat.

Eat real food.  These treats are more like a healthy choice than an indulgence.  And what’s not to love about that?!

Three Things on Thursday

My life is a roller coaster these days.  Good days.  Bad days.  Highs and lows.  There are days I feel unstoppable and days that stop me cold.  There are days where I feel on top of the world, and days where the tears just won’t stop.

There are pain-free days…and days where it hurts just getting out of bed.

This is my life…and has been since February 16, 2015.

Almost a year.

Still not better.  Still fighting.  Still not where I imagined I’d be.

I’m going to be honest, I came out of the weekend, despite the slip and fall on ice, feeling good.  My pain levels were down.  I was moving without problems.  And then…Tuesday hill repeats.  UGH!  JUST UGH!!  I did fine, but when I stop that’s when the problems start.  And despite a round of stretches my physical therapist assigned me, I was still feeling it yesterday and this morning when I worked in my training runs.

All that being said, I’ve powered through a lot, and despite my demanding work/training/recovery schedule…I’ve done some pretty amazing things so far this week.  I thought I’d share!

1. THEMED SPIN CLASSES

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I think I have the perfect (always colorful) tights for a Disco-themed spin class, yes?

Rocking perfect tights for a disco-themed spin class, yes?

My amazing and inspiring friend, Deana, is a very fun spin instructor.  It’s always a mixed bag with her.  And when you attend one of her classes, you are going to walk out of there a sweaty mess.  She’s in training for her first Half Ironman, and we’re in training with her, in a way.  At least on the stationary bike in the safety of the walls of the YMCA.  HA!

Anyway, this week, Deana has had themed spin classes.  And I am loving it.  Monday morning, my 5:30 a.m. class was treated to Spinning to the ’90s.  All the music was songs straight out of the 1990s…and I knew and even sang along with every single one of them.  Not loudly, because, I wouldn’t put anyone through the torture of hearing me sing, but it really takes your mind off of that hill climb and definitely brought a lot of hoots and hollers from the class.  And Friday morning, we’re getting a disco ball and having our own Disco Inferno all up in the spin room.  And I am already working on what I intend to wear for said Disco day.  There might even be a lava lamp.  Regardless, I’ll be ready to work hard to the tune of the best disco songs.

Themed spin classes…who knew?!

2. HILL REPEATS

Bright colors, bright lights, and loving that I'm DONE with hill repeats.

Bright colors, bright lights, and loving that I’m DONE with hill repeats.

Love them or hate them…hill repeats are real.  In fact, hill repeats are what my physical therapist currently wants me doing.  So, every Tuesday, I’m out at either Cherokee Park or Iroquois Park here in Louisville…running me some major hill repeats.  The past two weeks, I’ve knocked out 4 miles of hill repeats each Tuesday night.  4 freakin’ miles.  To this point, that is the furthest I have run since…the stress fracture in my leg back in August.

I won’t lie…a little part of me panics every time I go out there for these.  Hills do make you a stronger runner…but they hurt.  In my case, they really hurt.  But, I feel strong while doing them, and after some plyometric exercises and stretches…and a little TLC from my foam roller…I’m usually back in the game the next day.  So yeah…hills.  YAY!

I don’t worry about my time or how long I’m out there or even my speed.  What’s important to me is that I am actually out and running again.  Not completely pain-free…but being out there is SO much better than where I have been.  I’ll take every chance I can get to attempt to get stronger again.

3. CHILI COOK OFF

Hawaiian Chili (with a bit of Gluten Free Corn Spoonbread and Gluten Free Breton Original with Flax Crackers)

Hawaiian Chili (with a bit of Gluten Free Corn Spoon Bread and Gluten Free Breton Original with Flax Crackers)

So, yesterday was the annual chili cook off at my office.  Now, I have never actually submitted a chili to this cook off because, prior to this year, the co-owner (who has since retired) used to always tell me not to bother with bringing in a vegetarian chili, since his wife was making one.  I just never argued the fact.  With this year being wide open, I got a little carried away and ended up making 2 chilies and 1 batch of my gluten free corn spoon bread recipe that I’ve killed every time I’ve made it.  Meaning, it’s extremely awesome.  When it comes to cooking, especially in a quasi-competitive manner, I can be pretty indecisive on what chili to make.  So, I did what any chef would do…

…I made both.

Pizza Chili (which I figured would be my star) and Hawaiian Chili.

I realized I was splitting my odds at winning, but…I love both of these chilies and they were both very different.  VERY different.  Even from the other chilies (there were 7 entries…2 of which were mine) that were entered into the annual cook off.

And, shocking me (and probably the rest of the office who doesn’t always want to venture into my plant-based, gluten-free goodies)…I won.  With…Hawaiian Chili.  So not the chili that I expected to win.  I was seriously surprised. Of the two I brought in, I thought Pizza Chili would be the more popular one.  And it was a very near thing with the runner-up, a Mexican Beer Chili.  The winning chili is pictured above with the corn spoon bread.

I am so happy.  This is the first time a vegan/vegetarian chili has won.  And it’s the first time I have won anything at work.  So…YAY!!

I’ve had many requests for this recipe, so I will leave it here.  Do try it.  It’s amazing.

Recipe: Hawaiian Chili
Makes 4 very large servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 bell pepper, seeded & diced
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups pineapple, diced
  • 2 (15 oz) cans tomato sauce
    Crackers (optional…to serve on the side)
Directions:
Line a large pot with vegetable broth.
Sauté onions, garlic, and bell pepper until onions are translucent and bell peppers are soft.
Add spices, stir to coat vegetables.
Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Serve with crackers

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Seriously…make this stuff.

If you live in the area…come to tomorrow’s 5:30 a.m. spin class at the YMCA of Southern Indiana in New Albany and let Deana bring the funk and disco back…disco ball included.

And…run hills.  Feel strong.

Product Review: Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup

Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup

Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup

Product: Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup – $2.49+

Ah, my dear Jungle Jim’s…

Why must you be so far away and give me such good (and healthy) food.  I had never, never, ever seen any Explore Asian noodle cups anywhere around here…but I find you while cruising the international food aisles on my birthday, and…not knowing any better…only pick up enough for me to have once (I got two, for the record, but my roomie ate the other one).

*sigh*

This week, I’ve been really slacking on the meal prep for lunch.  In fact…it’s been vegetarian sushi and soup all week, because, it’s affordable, easy, and healthy!  At least I’m keeping it healthy, regardless of not really prepping anything to have on hand or keeping something on hand (okay…technically the soup was kept on hand…but I digress…), which is more than a lot of people manage.

Monday, due to being out of town…vegetarian sushi.  Tuesday…Amy’s Thai Coconut Soup (from a can…but SO GOOD!), Wednesday…SOFT PRETZEL WEDNESDAY at ANNIE MAY’S SWEET CAFE in Louisville.  Best (and only) gluten-free soft pretzels I’ve had out of an allergen-free bakery!  Thursday…soup…and this time…like a Cup ‘O Noodle…I pulled out the very new to my pantry Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup.

Why?

Because it was easy and I didn’t have to really do anything the night before to prep it.  How’s that for me being lazy.  Hey, I’m coming off a crazy, hectic, fun wedding weekend…I haven’t recovered yet!

Explore Asian strives to be innovative creators of everyday family friendly foods with a healthier twist.  While a small company, they still strive to put a lot of effort into exploring the world to find the highest quality, organic, and natural foods for their consumers to enjoy.  In fact, Explore Asian works directly with farmers to provide top of the line products.  Not only that, they take time to build a superior product that not only tastes good, but will nourish the body.  And, they believe in transparency when it comes to their consumers, maintaining a policy of being open and honest.

So, here we have a product similar to a Cup ‘O Noodle that is claiming to be healthy.  And you know what?  It really is!  In fact, people who consume Explore Asian products include healthy living advocates, athletes, people with special diets (gluten-free, wheat-free, egg-free), people who follow heart healthy diets (20 GI index for Explore Asian bean pastas), dieters and people trying to lose weight, non-GMO advocates, chefs and restaurants, vegans, and people who have to eat kosher!  Yep…all of that.

So, why was I still skeptical that this would make an amazing lunch?  I have no freakin’ idea!  Thursday afternoon…lunch time…and I prepare my roomie’s soup first…getting water and filling it to the line in the container with water, then using the 3 minute microwave method to eat it up.  It was piping hot when the microwave beeped and I prepped my bowl to go in.  This simply means…I pull off the lid (not microwave safe), dump out the contents, which include a packet of noodles, seasoning packet, salt packet, and a little plastic fork.  Add water up to the line and then stick the container in to warm for three minutes.  I delivered hers with gusto, showing her the fork (hers broke right away…mine did not break at all).  Spoon not provided, but it is a big bowl/cup thing…so you can always slurp the broth…

Anyway, I returned as my bowl was finishing up and I removed it from the microwave and walked it (with fork in hand) back to my desk.  I let it cool slightly before dipping the fork into the broth and spinning up a clump of the soybean noodles.  One taste was all it took for me to immediately berate myself for not purchasing more of these beauties.  The noodles were perfect…not mushy and definitely not going to get mushy throughout the time it took me to consume said container.  They stayed perfect…al dente and delicious!  I mean…really delicious.  The seasoning packet added all the flavor, and the brilliant part of the salt packet was that I could choose how much salt went in.  I put in half the packet in each bowl…and it was perfect.  Great flavor.  The noodles were definitely the stars.  My only complaint, I think, was that there were only like 4 pieces of vegetable in this soup.  It was all broth and noodle…and a piece of corn…maybe two…and a little bit of the chives.  I can’t make this up.  So, a little lacking on the actual vegetables…but those noodles were on point.  YUMMY!  And, trust me, nothing makes a hectic week better like a warm bowl of soup.  Am I right?  Of course I’m right!

So, let’s discuss the ingredients that are inside the Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup, shall we?  This soup contains organic soybeans, organic rice, water.  The seasoning packet includes maltodextrin, sichuanese pepper, wild pepper, star anise, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, dehydrated chives, dehydrated carrot, dehydrated sweet corn.  And, as mentioned, the salt packet is separate.  This amazing soup is gluten free, vegan (they also have vegan chicken and beef flavored as well), and non-GMO.

So, I’ve mentioned how this is actually a healthy (and filling) choice for an easy, brain-less meal, right?  But now let me prove it with the nutritional information on the Explore Asian Gluten Free Vegetable Flavor Soybean Noodle Soup.  A serving size is 2.2 ounces (aka: 1 container).  This serving will dish up 207 calories, 3 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 grams cholesterol, 150 mg sodium (if you add the entire salt packet, you are adding an additional 606 mg sodium…so if you are watching your sodium intake like we are…a dash does just fine!), 25 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fiber, 8 grams sugars, and 20 grams of protein.  When I said that this soup will make you feel full, I wasn’t kidding!!

Filling, yes…but even more importantly…YUMMY!  This soup went above and beyond all expectations.  This is not ramen noodles.  This is not Cup ‘O Noodle.  This is a healthy, beneficial, amazing soup that I hope I can locate somewhere around where I live…otherwise next time I journey through Cincinnati…I’ll have to stop off at Jungle Jim’s specifically to pick up more of these.  It was a lunch I felt good about eating…even if I was doing it at my desk while working.

Restaurant Review: Bandar, San Diego, California

Bandar, San Diego, California

Bandar, San Diego, California

Restaurant: Bandar, San Diego, California

It’s not every day that I get to travel somewhere new and exciting.  But this current week, I’m off on an adventure.  Albeit (see an upcoming post), not the adventure that I was expecting, but you make the most of the cards that are dealt to you.  You can’t change the circumstances, but you can change the attitude, right?

You betcha!

So, for one day only, I was knee-deep in the surroundings, hills, and the beautiful bay of San Diego.  While my traveling buddies (Cathy (aka: the roomie) and Jenn) went to a local taco stand for lunch, I made my lunch out of a protein bar that I brought with me.  I hadn’t planned on lunch, and when I can’t check out places online, I get a bit cautious.  I like to read reviews and look at menus and be confident in my choice to eat somewhere.  When you have food allergies, you just learn not to take risks.  It was all good.  My bar was filling and got me through to dinner time.  Because Cathy had made reservations at a place called Bandar in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.

Bandar is a Persian restaurant of all things.  Now, I’ve had a lot of different cuisines in my life, but my taste buds had never had a go at Persian cuisine.  Bandar’s owner, Behrooz Farahani, graduated with a degree in architecture and originally owned his own architectural firm.  When he visited San Diego in 1986, he decided to move his family (a wife and twin daughters) there to provide them with a better life.  Behrooz and his wife, Shokooh, purchased the historical buidling in the Gaslamp Quarter…and soon Bandar emerged, becoming an overnight phenomenon.  This husband and wife team raised Persian dining to new heights, using authentic marinades for signature dishes involving beef, lamp, chicken, and fish.  Using only the finest ingredients, Farahani insists on personally choosing each cut of meat that is served in his restaurants.

The restaurant, Bandar, is best known for its use of healthy ingredients and bold, complex flavors, bringing the flavors of saffron, limes, and other Persian spices to the forefront of each dish, highlighting the amazing flavor that comes in such a healthy and exotic cuisine.

It had been a long, long day.  I was sore from making the hikes through airports to get to my flights.  And then hauling around San Diego.  But, it was all culminating with the final outing of the evening…dinner.  And Cathy chose Bandar as our place to eat as it had great reviews on Find Me Gluten Free…and mostly everything (save the bread) is gluten-free in the restaurant (although I think the desserts are also an exception, but we were too full to even consider dessert).  Therefore, this made it a great place to check out.

We were there a little earlier than the reservation and for most of the meal, we were the only ones in there.  Considering it was prime dinner time, I was a bit surprised by this.  But, what do you do?  You get seated early (we all decided we could eat…although I’ve realized that traveling still does a number on my appetite and most times I’m not exactly hungry, but I know I need to eat something.  The hostess seated us near the back at a gorgeous table and left us with menus.  Water was poured and we settled in for a moment.  Flat bread and butter were brought out…and to be sure we asked (because the menu misleadingly says that all food there is gluten-free) about what I could have…and the bread was a no-go.  From what I was told…it was good.

The first thing we noticed was the price of the food.  Holy hummus, foodies…it was pricey.  And with Hawaii on the horizon, we weren’t looking for an expensive meal, for sure.  I mean, the cheapest (and pretty much only) vegetarian entree on there (Eggplant Stew) was around $26.  I wasn’t sure how big the entree portions were either, and, as I said, I wasn’t all that hungry to begin with.  A combination of fatigue and the heat, I believe, are to blame for that.  My internal clock was three hours ahead, so in my mind, it was bedtime, not dinner time.

While we decided on what to do for dinner, Cathy placed an order for the Hummus Classic ($10.00) that we could split.  With that order in, we continued discussing whether or not to split some appetizers or just let me get an appetizer size plate and Cathy and Jenn split an entree.  This actually went on for longer than it should have, but mostly because we were all just tired, and probably hungrier than we realized.  BUT…with that being said…our Hummus Classic arrived, without anything to dip in it, so I guess that was meant for that flat bread.  Cathy asked our waitress if we could have some tomatoes or something so that I could have some too…and she very quickly said she would bring out some cucumbers for me.  YAY!  Cathy and Jenn each scooped up a little.  This was actually Jenn’s first time (she is a bean-hater, BTW) trying hummus and she did not like it at all.  To dry and beany she said.  Cathy, however, did like it, and when I got my cucumbers and was able to try it…it was actually really good.  Smooth, seasoned with paprika and just…yummy.  It had that bit of olive oil to finish and it made for a flavorful touch.  It was a nice little appetizer to help get us more focused.  And while we enjoyed the hummus and Jenn enjoyed some flat bread, we finally decided on dinner.  YAY!

Bandar's Albalu Polo (Black Cherry Rice and Chicken Kebab)

Bandar’s Albalu Polo (Black Cherry Rice and Chicken Kebab)

Jenn and Cathy, in the end, decided to split the Albalu Polo (Black Cherry Rice with Chicken Kebab) entree ($26.00).  This is exactly what the dish sounds like…chunks of grilled chicken tenderloin served up with rice and black cherries.  The waitress asked if they liked sweet things because it was a sweet dish.  The two poultry-loving sweet-toothers were okay with that.

As for me, I went with the Dolmeh (Stuffed Grape Leaves) starter ($12.00).  I have had horrible grape leaves at a local place in Louisville, Kentucky (oddly enough called The Grape Leaf) and then had some fantastic ones at a Mediterranean chain called Taziki’s.  So, this is like my go-to food.  This version of Dolmehs were large grape leaves stuffed with split peas, tarragon, basil, parsley, cilantro, chives, rosemary and basmati rice.  When I ordered it, she said it was like a meal…so that was a good sign.

The food actually took a little bit of time to get to us.  That was fine, because everything at Bandar is cooked to order.  Although, it did get to the point that Jenn and I were joking about having to go find a chicken, kill it, pluck it, debone it, etc.  But, lo and behold…as a few more people were coming in, our food arrived.  I am very glad that Cathy and Jenn opted to split the entree they got because that platter was HUGE.  It easily could have fed 3-4 people.  Honestly.  And the waitress said that she has seen diners finish it on their own.  How that is even possible, I’ll never know.  They let me try the black cherry rice, and it was really tasty.  But I had my own food to dive into, so I left them to their chicken platter of DOOOOOM, while I settled in to feast on my own meal.

The starter size Dolmehs at Bandar come with four (4) very stuffed grape leaves, each one resting on a fresh slice of tomato.  That was a nice touch.  After photos for the blog, I carried over the first Dolmeh to my plate and settled in with fork and knife to give it a taste.  I sliced through the cooked grape leaf, seeing the seasoned basmati rice, split peas, and herbs poke out and fall onto my plate and the tomato.  The rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned.  The flavors were awesome.  My first bite and I got the fresh herbs immediately in the rice, the spices, and even the peas.  It was a great texture, the rice soft, but not mushy, the peas the same…and that grape leaf…it was cooked to perfection.  Pairing it with a slice of tomato brought a nice added touch and I ate it, whether it was a garnish or not.  I love tomatoes…I could eat a full one as a snack.  Needless to say…it was worth the wait…and the indecision…and the price.

And, in case you were wondering, Cathy and Jenn loved their Albalu Polo dish too.  Not only was the rice cooked to perfection and paired beautifully with sweet black cherries (I never would have imagined that combination to work), they said the chicken was moist, tender, and tasty.  But they hardly made a dent in the actual entree dish itself.  But, they did what they could. In the end, Cathy said she could always eat the leftovers for breakfast (which I didn’t believe for a moment, and lo and behold, I was right), so they boxed it up and we left with full and happy tummies.

So, in the end, expensive, but damn, you really do get what you pay for.  Honestly, I was not expecting that much food.  So, honestly, when you look at it in perspective, Bandar is giving you your money’s worth on their expensive entrees.  I was relieved I didn’t attempt the Eggplant Stew on my own after seeing the Thanksgiving Day platter of food that Jenn and Cathy attempted (and failed) to make a dent in.

Bandar was an interesting experience and got Jenn to at least try something new.  I’m still working on getting her to try avocado.  She says it scares her…but I’ll work on it.  That being said, Persian food is very interesting, delightful, and delicious.  And I was beyond happy with the food I was able to eat at Bandar.  They brought out a tray of cakes to offer us dessert, but we were done and ready to head back to the hotel, cycle through the shower, and get ready for a 3 am wakeup call to get to the airport and continue on our way to Hawaii the next day.

And by the time we were leaving, there were a few more people inside eating.  I guess the Gaslamp Quarter (home of SO MANY restaurants) isn’t quite as busy on a Thursday night.  But that worked in our favor, as we never felt rushed, and our food was given extreme focus and care.  It showed.  It was everything I hoped for…and a little more.  I’d be more than tempted to go back should I ever find myself back in San Diego.

Bandar's Dolmeh starter

Bandar’s Dolmeh starter