Squashing Chili Standards

Wow, how is it October over already?!

With the turn of a new month that means the experimentation for the best vegan chili must come to an end. This challenge has not only cleared my sinuses but helped me understand the heart of a good chili.

Before I took on this challenge, chili was just an excuse to empty my pantry with a sprinkle of chili powder. Now, I understand the difference between bases, stocks and found a method to accomplish that ideal umami flavor every bowl. Sure it takes a little more effort, but homemade stocks and chili pastes are worth the effort.

I began this challenge on the premise of 5 rules for an ideal chili. After my testing, it is time to rewrite the rules so that you can create the best fail-proof vegan chili every time.

4 Rules for the Best Vegan Chili

  1. Stock is boss. Homemade vegetable stock will add umami that is usually missing in a store bought veg stock. Check out the two stock recipes I stand by here and here. In a rush? Fortify your store bought stock with dried shitake mushrooms, miso and toasted walnuts. Allow to boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes. strain and use.

  2. Chile paste or bust. Making your own chile paste allows for your to control the heat and flavor profiles of your chili. Chili paste allows for depth of flavor in your chili, as the various chilis hit your tastebuds you will get heat, smoke and char that can mimic the “meaty“ profiles of traditional chili.

  3. Beans, beans the magical fruit. Beans add body, creaminess and texture to your chili. This enhances the heartiness of the dish without interfering with flavor. Make sure your beans are sturdy and never overcooked. *If using canned beans make sure to add them in last so that they do not break down.

  4. Minimal tomato. Tomatoes add a slight sweetness to your chili base, enhancing the flavors of the chilies. However, I suggest stick to the paste, canned diced tomatoes can add too much water to your base interfering with the umami of your stock.


Without further ado below is the fourth and final vegan chili of this October Chili Challenge. I have combined my favorite components of the previous chilis - like rich chocolate, thick chile forward base and meaty jackfruit - into a full bodied and hearty chili.

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Butternut Squash and Jackfruit Chili

Yields 6-8 servings

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  • 6 ancho chilies, rehydrated

  • 2 monita chilies, rehydrated

  • 2 jalapenos

  • 6 oz tomato paste

  • 1 large yellow onion, small dice

  • 1 cup carrots, small dice

  • 1 cup celery, small dice

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 cup butternut squash, about 1 large squash, ½ inch dice

  • 1 green bell pepper, ½ inch dice

  • 2 tbsp ground cumin

  • 1 tsp dried oregano

  • 1 tsp paprika

  • ½ tsp ground ginger

  • 1 can jackfruit

  • 2 cans beans, I used black beans and red kidney beans

  • 3 oz dark chocolate

  • 5 cups Brown Stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Place jalapenos on a sheet tray and roast for 15 minutes, until tender and starting to slit out of the skin.

2. Soak dried chilies in boiling water, for 30 minutes, until rehydrated and pliable.

3. Drain and rinse jackfruit, place into a small bowl and shred into bite size pieces. Toss in 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika and salt. Place onto a sheet tray and roast for 20-25 minutes until slightly browned.

4. In a large soup pot, heat 3 tbsp olive oil and add diced onion, carrot, celery, garlic and salt. Sauté until vegetables are tender and onions are translucent.

5. Add cumin, oregano, paprika and ginger. Allow to toast for about 2 minutes until fragrant.

6. Add diced butternut squash and bell pepper. Reduce heat to medium, to avoid burning,  allow to sauté for 10 minutes.

7. In a medium bowl or blender add tomato paste, jalepenos, chiles and ¼ cup water. Blend until smooth, adding more water if needed.

8. Add the chile mixture to the soup pot stirring to combine.

9. Add 4-5 cups of brown stock. Allow mix to cook on low until butternut squash is cooked through 10- 15 minutes.

10. Add in roasted jackfruit, drained beans and dark chocolate. Stir to combine.

11. Simmer for at least 10- 20 minutes for flavors to melt together.

12. Serve it up! Top it with diced avocado, red onion and cilantro.  





Ancho Average Chili

Next up on the chili challenge is decoding a classic Texas Chili.

We all know everything is bigger in Texas… but did you know how seriously they take their chili? Chili is Texas’ State Dish, also known as the Bowl of Red, gained its popularity out of necessity for all of the Cowboys looking for a hearty, warm dish after a day of labor. In order to keep tradition alive, the regulations on what can be called a Texas Red Chili is a strict rule book.

Regulations:

  1. Diced beef.

  2. Beef stock.

  3. Chili paste for the base.

  4. Thickened with Masa (corn flour).

  5. No tomatoes, no beans, no vegetables.

Well clearly turning this dish vegan, violates some MAJOR qualifications. But what fun are rules if you can’t break them?!

In this vegan version I changed it up a little.

1.     Diced beef. —> Tempeh and mushroom mix.

2.     Beef stock. —> Brown stock.

3.     Chili paste for the base.

4.     Thickened with Masa (corn flour).

5.     No tomatoes, no beans, no vegetables. —> Well, honestly this rule needed to change anyway.   

I will admit this chili does not have the coat-your-mouth fattiness of a traditional Texas Chili, but the flavor and texture profiles are spot on. With a mix of spicy and lightly smoked chilies the base of the chili has a great depth of flavor with a heat that slowly rises to the surface. The sauce is thickened just enough to coat the diced tempeh, soaking up the flavors of the chili for that slow cooked meaty feel.

Check it out for yourself. (And if you’re really into breaking the rules, spoon it over quinoa or cauliflower rice)

Vegan Texas Chili

Yield 6-8 servings  

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  • Dried chile: 3 Ancho chile, 2 Monita chile, 4 guajillo chile

  • Fresh chile: 2-3 fresno chile (depending on desired spice), 1 jalapeno

  • 3 cloves of garlic

  • 6 oz tomato paste

  • ¼ cup water

  • 1 yellow onion, small diced

  • 1 green bell pepper, small diced

  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin

  • 1 tsp paprika

  • 2 8 oz packages of Tempeh, ½ inch dice

  • ¼ cup tamari

  • 1 tbsp honey (or maple syrup)

  • 6 portobella mushroom caps, 1 inch dice

  • 3 tbsp Masa flour or corn flour

  • 4-5 cups of Brown Stock (recipe below)

  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar

 

1.     Dice the tempeh into ½ inch pieces. Transfer to a plastic bag and add tamari, ½ tsp cumin and honey. Shake to combine and set aside to marinade for at least 1 hour.

2.     To start the chili paste, toss fresh fresnos and jalapeno in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until just roasted and starting to pop.

3.     In a medium bowl, place dried chiles and cover with hot water. Allow to sit for 25-30 minutes until softened.

 

4.     While the chiles are soaking, in a large soup pot heat 3 tbsp olive oil. Add diced onion and pepper, saute until onions are translucent. Add 1 tsp cumin and paprika, allowing to toast for 1 minute. Remove and set aside.

5.     In the same pot, add tbsp olive oil and sear diced portobella mushrooms, season with salt. Cook until tender and lightly browned, approx. 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

6.     Next, sear the marinated tempeh. Place an even layer of the tempeh down to ensure that each piece can brown. This may take two or three rounds.

7.     Remove the tempeh and add to the cooked mushrooms.

 

8.     Back to the paste, remove the stems and seeds of the softened and roasted chiles.

9.     In a medium bowl (or blender if using), add cleaned chiles, ¼ cup water, garlic and tomato paste.

10.  Using an immersion blender, blend the chile mix until it is a smooth paste. Set aside.

 

11.  In the same soup pot over medium heat, whisk together 1 cup of brown stock and 3 tbsp of masa. Allow the mix to come to a shallow boil. The sauce will appear thickened and should coat the back of a spoon.

12.  Add the cooked onion mix, chile paste, mushrooms, tempeh and white vinegar. Cover with 4 cups of brown stock, until the ingredients are just covered. Add up to 1 cup more of stock if needed.

13.  Stir to combine, bring to a boil. Reduce the chili to a simmer and allow to cook for at least 1 hour. The longer the chili is allowed to simmer the better the flavor.

14.  To serve it up, garnish with scallion, avocado, parsley or (dairy free) sour cream.

 

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Brown Stock

Yields 8 cups

  • 2 yellow onions, rough chop

  • 1 carrot, rough chop

  • 1 parsnip, rough chop

  • 1 cup dried shitake mushroom

  • 4 cloves garlic, whole

  • 1 bay leaf

  • ½ bunch parsley

  • ¾ walnuts, toasted

  • ¾ cup French lentils, uncooked

  • 2 tbsp miso  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.     Rough chop vegetables, toss in olive oil, salt and miso paste.

2.     Transfer to a sheet tray and roast for 45-60 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and starting to caramelize.

3.     In a large soup pot, add roasted vegetables and the rest of the ingredients. Cover with 8 cups of water. Bring to a bowl, cover and let simmer for at least 2 hours.

4.     Once the stock liquid is a dark brown color, remove from heat.

5.     Strain the liquid and throw out solids. Store in fridge for 3-4 days or freeze for up to 4 months.





Pip Your Bowl

Rise and shine, this smoothie bowl is sure to get any morning poppin' . 

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Not only is this bowl easy on the eyes, its high in antioxidants, probiotics, anti-inflammatory agents and protein. This bowl gets its vibrant color from Maqui Berry a nutrient dense berry found in Chile. Similar to acai, maqui berries are high in antioxidants, anti-bacterial and anti- carcinogen properties, aiding in cell function and detoxification. Maqui berry has also been found to lower and maintain blood sugar levels, especially for those with diabetes. 

Now smoothie bowl toppings are equally important as the smoothie itself... right? I decided to elevate ordinary granola with this Coffee Dusted Popcorn' Granola. This granola uses Pipcorn's Sea Salt mini popcorn kernels to achieve the perfect balance of sweet and salty granola to pair with this tropical bowl. Pipcorn uses natural heirloom corn kernels to pop their mini popcorn, which is perfect for snacking on its own and added to recipes to pop it up a notch. 

Ok I'll put a spoon in it, time for you to check out the recipes below for yourself! 


Coffee Dusted Popcorn Granola

Yield 6 cups

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  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups Pipcorn, Sea Salt
  • 1/4 cup pistachios
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 tsp reishi powder
  • 1 tsp chia seeds
  • 10 dates, pureed 
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tbsp almond butter, melted (or nut butter or your choice)
  • 3 tsp instant coffee
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl combine oats, popcorn, nuts, reishi, coffee and chia. Stir to combine and set aside 
  3. In a food processor, pulse dates with a 1 tsp water to blend in to a paste. If larger chunks remain that is ok. 
  4. Add the melted coconut oil, dates, nut butter and maple syrup to the dry mix. Stir until all ingredients are evenly coated. 
  5. Evenly spread mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly toasted and crunchy.
  6. Set aside to cool.

 

Maqui Berry Smoothie Bowl

Yield 4 cups

  • 2 bananas, frozen
  • 1/2 cup coconut yogurt
  • 1/4 cup pineapple
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp Maqui Powder
  • 1 scoop protein powder of your choice ( I used Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides) 

Directions

  1. In food processor, or blender, combine all ingredients. Blend until smooth. 

To assemble:

Pour smoothie mixture into a bowl, top with fresh cut fruit and Coffee Dusted Popcorn Granola. Enjoy!

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One Year and Counting

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It’s official I have been out and about in the culinary real world for ONE whole year. Time has flown by (seriously, what day is it?!) But exactly one year ago I took my final cook tech exam at the Natural Gourmet Institute before being sent on my way into this insane, intense, passionate, terrifying yet rewarding industry. ‘Post-grad’ life has been one for the books as I go through waves of inspiration and self-doubt trying to establish myself as a cook.    

 

Can’t Take the Heat

Working in a kitchen is nothing yet everything I expected. Through popular media the life of a professional cook is glorified as a passion driven career where you do what you love every day and take pride in your final product. Sprinkled with the horrific examples of the angry chefs and injuries that cooks subject themselves too every day.

Now, I was a culinary school graduate with no idea what to do next. Keep cooking? Find a ‘normal job’ in marketing? I was lost. I convinced myself I could make it as a cook. I knew how to poach an egg, braise vegetables, make bread and break down a chicken. I could do anything, right?

Wrong.

My first externship after school was 3 weeks of realizing I was not cut out for the job. I worked Garde Manger (salad and cold appetizer station) at Cookshop, a farmers-market driven restaurant serving amazing American fare. I had never worked in a restaurant and had no clue what I was doing. I was lucky the chef even let me on his line! Day one, I learned how to read tickets… yes, I really knew NOTHING. I was there to assist the cook who ran the station. I helped prepare ingredients, pick herbs and watch and learn the rhythm of making hundreds of salads while plating beef tartar, shuck oysters and pipe filling for deviled eggs. Needless to say, the first week was an overwhelming disaster. Luckily the team at Cookshop was so helpful and supportive. I am sure I caused more trouble than help but they always smiled and moved on to the next order. By the end of my three weeks I was shucking oysters (with minimal injury) and making salads without being ‘sent back’ by chef.

To be completely honest I thought my time in a kitchen was going to be over after my externship. I thought there was no way I could run my own station. I just wasn’t good enough. But with a little advice and a huge push I decided to give it another go and work at Cookshop’s sister restaurant Vic’s.

Fast forward, I have now been at Vic’s for just under one year! To say there was a learning curve would be a massive understatement. I showed up with a nervous and bruised ego, to run the garde manger station on my own (luckily, no oysters). The beginning was rough, riddled with tears, burns and a little yelling every now and then. Everyday was a blow to the ego, a “what the F*** am I doing here kind of a day.” But yet again, the team had my back. Everyone was eager to help and encouraged me to keep going.

Then it started to fall into place. Shifts became less hectic, I could set up my station in time without running out of prep, I could plate desserts and salads at the same time. I was feeling confident, until BAM I was promoted to the next station… hot appetizers. Stuck in the middle of the open kitchen so every diner could watch me under pressure. There was a lot of, ‘the vegetables are under salted,’ ‘the carrots aren’t hot,’ ‘there’s no shine,’ ‘the vegetables look dry,’ ‘Emily, I missing 6 corns, 3 carrots and a farinata!’… aka a flash back to my first month. But if there is one thing I have learned through this processes is that if you keep your head down, try your hardest and build a sense of confidence you can get through the push.

Now, I have moved onto my 3rd station… I can’t believe it. I still stumble over tickets and cause a mess of the kitchen but I am learning. Every day I put in my best effort, try to understand the ins and outs of the kitchen, soaking up any information given to me. That is a part of the rewarding side of the job that leaves you yearning for more, if you push yourself hard enough you can achieve radical results.

Long story short, popular media hasn’t quite nailed it. They forget to portray the crazy hours, never seeing your friends that live outside of the restaurant, holidays in the kitchen and constant self-doubt. They leave out the family you build when everyone is pushed to their limits, the power of a team and the intoxicating feeling of getting through a rough night. And they forget the strength of the people you work with, who work 21 hours in a day to make ends meet without ever complaining. It’s not easy, not always fun but there is something that makes it worth it.

 

In Other News

Through the ups and downs of my year in the kitchen I have considered quitting, looked for completely different jobs and thrown myself into new hobbies in order to alleviate the pain of everyday kitchen life. Which has left my posts and inspiration for The Fresh Slice non-existent the past few months. (Oops.)

In my social media absence, I did add a few new exciting projects to the books. I completed the second level of sommelier classes at the International Wine Center. Wine has always been a place of interest for me, especially in its connection with food. I was thirsty to know more, expand my understanding and verbiage of international wines and how to accurately pair them with food. Knowing next to nothing walking through the door, except that I love Savion Blanc, the next 9 weeks were whirlwind of information and tastings of amazing wines. The class was incredible. It provided a broad spectrum into the wine world, explored new grape varieties, trends in the market and of course food pairings. Now, I am not on the path of Master Sommelier (yet) but I am excited to share some of my findings with you in future posts.

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Lastly, I have taken on a new side hustle with This Pie is Nuts. A local gluten free, vegan and paleo company making individual pies and granola. The company was created by the amazing Diana Pappas who has single handedly grown the business for the past 2 years. All of our products are entirely out of the nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Basically, the most nutritious pie out there. With new and exciting plans in the future we are working to build This Pie is Nuts into something big. Keep an eye out, or take a bite and order online.

So woop there it is, the whole crazy, exciting, intimidating and wild year is over but one thing has remained the same… food is still the passion of my life. From cookbook lined shelves to restaurant hopping through NYC I am still hungry and I can’t wait to see what I can bring to you this year.

As the great once said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interest in it.”- Julia Child.

 

  

One Day with Martha

If you are anything like me, you have day dreamed about roaming Martha Stewart’s farm and cooking in her perfectly organized kitchen. Not to mention meeting the legend herself.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to do just that… and let’s just say it was more than I could have imagined. I am still pinching myself. I was chosen to join Martha on Martha Bakes to talk about baking and watch the master herself. The episode we filmed will air tomorrow, 4/9 on PBS at 4:30pm EST. The episode will cover the essentials to a no-fuss fruit curd recipe with three delicious applications; a Lemon Tart, Passion Fruit- Filled Cupcakes and Genoise with Raspberry Curd.

Flash back to my day with Martha - it all started (like a dream, because I was half asleep) with a 5am wake up call to catch a train upstate to Martha Stewart’s farm. I nervously sipped my morning coffee in disbelief that in only 1 hour I would be meeting the woman behind one of the most powerful and impactful brands in the world. We were picked up from the train station and whisked off to Martha’s farm in Bedford, NY. Upon arrival (despite the rainy day) I was floored by the expansive farm, greenhouses and beautiful landscaping.

The first step into Martha’s kitchen is like stepping into the pages of her magazine, it is a harmonious combination of luxury, comfort and warmth. White marble countertops and floors set the stage for a breathtaking collection of copper cookware. As a cook I may appreciate kitchens more than the average person, but you know that euphoric feeling when your kitchen is fully stocked, beautiful organized and clean? Well I was in this state of bliss for the entire shoot.

Martha was gracious and beautiful as she welcomed us to her home and on the show. After a quick set-up of the set it was lights, camera, action. Having never been on TV before my two classmates and I were shaking with nerves to say the least. Throughout the shoot I was in awe of Martha’s ease in front of the camera. She has an undeniable ability to light up a room with her calming voice and ability to make even the most complicated techniques look effortless.

The most exciting part of filming was the behind-the- scene magic. From pre-measured ingredients waiting to be transformed, to back-up cakes in case something goes wrong, nothing goes unnoticed by Martha or her staff. I was most surprised by Martha’s distaste for “swap-out” shows (aka the TV magic when a cake is mixed, baked and decorated in 2 minutes). On Martha’s shows she makes everything onset from start to finish so that the audience doesn't miss a step. This method of filming relies on precision from Martha and her staff in order to pull of the perfect product in minimal takes. It was as exciting to see as it was to taste ;) .

As we watched Martha work it is undeniable that she is the utmost perfectionist. She has high expectations for her staff, down to not wasting the last tablespoon of butter. But can you blame her? She has built an empire based on clean, simple, perfection. Finding the best methods for home cooks to prepare difficult dishes and giving America a sense of style with home decor and DIY projects. She is a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to demand it.

Being able to spend one day with Martha will be an experience I will never forget. Now if only I could master cooking without turning my apartment into a crime scene… baby steps.

 

 

 

slice + dice like a pro

Like a painter without a brush or a surgeon without a scalpel, a chef is nothing without their knives. A knife is the most effective tool to express a chef’s vision on a plate. Until going to culinary school I never understood the importance and detail that goes into making, using and cleaning a chef’s knife.

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It’s true, a sharp knife is more than a sharp knife. There are two basic styles of knives that differ in their shape and blade angle, a French Knife and a Japanese Knife. Don’t worry I won’t quiz you on the angle degrees, but what you need to know is that a French knife is the most commonly used in the West because it allows for the most versatile cuts for everyday cooking needs. (Also, chef’s have to work their way up to using a Japanese knife. One day!)

NOW you’re in the knife aisle and … SURPRISE there are way more than just two options! How are you supposed to choose?! Here’s the breakdown. Chef knives can be made of carbon, stainless steel or high carbon stainless steel. There are pros and cons to each material but for cooking, carbon and high carbon stainless steel are the way to go. To choose between the two carbon knives can be more affordable option upfront, but requires more maintenance over time. The cutting edge is sharp but loses its edge quickly requiring you to sharpen more frequently. The metal is also prone to discoloration, so proper cleaning after each use is extremely important. 

High carbon stainless steel is a hybrid material that was designed to hold a sharp edge and reduce any discoloration. These knives can be more expensive, however, will require slightly less maintenance. High carbon stainless steel maintains a sharp edge for a long time and will not rust easily. Personally, I am a fan of high carbon stainless steel… mostly because I am a low maintenance kind of girl and the thought of sharpening my knife every other week or so is terrifying. [Make sure you knife has a “full tang,” that ensures it was made properly and the blade will not separate from the handle over time.]

Dropping over a hundred dollars on a few knives seems like an unnecessary expense. Trust me if I was writing this pre-culinary school I’d probably being smiling down the Ikea aisles high five-ing the cashier because I got a knife set for $15. BUT I would be fooled!

A proper chef's knife is necessary for safety and product quality. It may be counter intuitive but a sharp knife is a safe knife. With a sharp knife you are able to cut through awkward shaped items or tough vegetables with ease. No more wiggling and shifting your blade to cut through a squash and accidentally slipping the blade across your fingers. With that being said, it is EXTREMELY important to use proper technique when cutting anything...

“Chef’s claw”: Curl your fingers on the surface of the food like a bear claw. The blade of the knife should rest against your middle finger as a guide. Looking down at the top of the knife slice downwards in a slight rocking motion (tip down first, then follow through to the back of the knife).

 

 

 

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So now that your fingers are safe we can explore different cuts that are crucial to the culinary world. Mastering knife skills may not be essential for home cooking, but if you’re wondering why some of your sweet potato fries take twice as long to bake as others it may help to focus on how you are slicin’ and dicin’. The diagram below depicts the dimensions and names of the cuts necessary for basic knife skills. My advice, don’t worry if you can’t get the correct dimensions for each cut (it takes time!), focus on making all of your cuts about the same size, to ensure even cooking. 

Your chef knives are an investment, treat them that way. Proper cleaning and maintenance of your knife will make sure you can continue cook your best. To wash, NEVER put your knives in the dishwasher. The high heat and rattling against other equipment will dull the knife quickly. It is best to go old school with a soft sponge, soap and water. Then dry the knife immediately with a dry towel. If water droplets are left on the surface (especially a carbon knife) it will begin to erode the material and cause discoloration.

Long story short, don’t over think it. A knife is like a long-term relationship... chose one that is right for you, treat it well, if things need to be sharpened work it out with a stone “massage” and trust each slice will be better than the one before.