February Culinary Smackdown: Madras Cabbage with Peas

Friends, welcome to this month's Culinary Smackdown: Battle Cabbage.  I decided I needed to make something special to prove that humble cabbage can be the star of a fantastic meal.  And so I made a dish that Tim and I have both been daydreaming about since we ate it last fall.

You may think that cabbage is simply a cruciferous vegetable only to be paired with vinegar (or cream), but I am going to stomp all over those assumptions and invite you down memory lane with me.  Tim and I ate dinner, pre-dietary restrictions, at New Krishna, our favorite Indian restaurant in Sharonville.  Since we dined in, we opted for the buffet, and each got a little scoop of just about everything.  To my surprise, Tim's favorite item was the Cabbage Masala.  It was a little spicy and aromatic and so different from the creamy curried tomato sauces that drenched most of the other options.  I loved it so much I would have been willing to loosen the top button of my jeans to eat a little more.  When else have I ever considered stuffing myself on cabbage?

I picked up some Madras Curry Powder last weekend at Colonel De and opted to use that instead of my usual garam masala.  The main difference in the two spice blends is that the Madras Curry Powder doesn't have cloves in it while the garam masala does.  Oh, and Madras Curry can be spicy--which we like very much.  Overall, it lightened up the aromatics of this dish, but the few whole cloves I threw into the hot oil were just enough for a hint of that flavor.

And so Madras Cabbage with Peas was reinvented for this home cook.  A skeptical Tim, who prefers a big slice of meat with the majority of his meals, was completely satisfied with my make-at-home version.  The beauty of this recipe is that you could use just about any vegetables you wanted.  If you decide to make this with potatoes, you will need to either pre-boil the potatoes or add some water to the pan and allow it to reduce.  I've done that before and you end up with a lovely sauce.  I also suggest chickpeas, cauliflower, or carrots to compliment the curry powder.

And in case you can't find Madras Curry Powder, you could always substitute Garam Masala (just don't add the whole cloves).  I've been able to find the latter at my local Indian grocery store.  Or, if you're inclined to make your own spice blends, the label of my Madras Curry Powder says that it contains (in the order of the label): coriander, cumin, peppercorns, black mustard seeds, chili, fenugreek, turmeric.  I am unsure of the amounts of each.

Madras Cabbage with Peas
serves 4 as main course, 6 as a side dish

2 tbsp canola oil

1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/4 tsp whole cloves
2-3 small yellow onions, peeled and sliced about 1/8 inch thick

1 to 1.5 lbs green cabbage, cored and sliced into long thin strips about 1/4 inch thick
2 tsp Madras Curry Powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt & pepper

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add mustard seeds and cloves until fragrant and slightly brown, about 3 minutes.  Add onion and cook until almost translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add cabbage to the pan and stir occasionally for 6-7 minutes, until cabbage has begun to wilt and even slightly brown.  Sprinkle curry powder, turmeric, and red pepper flakes over cabbage and stir.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes, until cabbage is just barely still firm yet easy to bite.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serve over rice or with flatbread.  (Maybe even gluten free naan?)

Please check out Grumpy Granny's Host Post for a round up of the entries and the announcement of the winner in a few days on her blog!


Hillbilly Tea, Louisville, KY

I spent the afternoon in Louisville last week.  I was there for work, but I carved out some time in the early afternoon to seek out a unique spot for a late lunch.  After I asked for suggestions on Twitter, a friend  recommended Hillbilly Tea, and I was just a few blocks away so I headed there.

The vibe inside was eclectic and felt thoughtfully curated.  A mix between a farm house and a city loft, the seating was mismatched but cohesively defined the spaces.  An open drink station at the far end of the room created the feeling of being in someone's house for lunch, which I particularly liked.

The menu proudly boasted local food vendors and a huge selection of teas.  Each of the menu items felt authentically Kentucky yet a little modern.  Listed side by side were the (extremely juicy) hamburger that I ordered and a vegetarian forest mushroom pot pie.  Definitely a little something for all tastes.

The chair hanging on the wall, alone and above my visual line, sort of summed up the whole experience for me.  It was fun and unexpected yet warm and welcoming.  I'd definitely go back, especially for the vast tea selection and the spicy sweet potato soup (which isn't pictured because I ate it so quickly).  I brought home a chocolate cupcake sprinkled with fresh rosemary for my husband; between bites he said it was delicious.

You can visit Hillbilly Tea at 120 S. 1st Street in Louisville Kentucky.  During the week they serve breakfast and lunch and on the weekends also have a dinner service.


My Favorite Gluten Free Snacks

The most difficult issue in being gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and whatever-else-free, is that it requires advance planning when it comes to food.  There is very little "fast food" that isn't cross contaminated with wheat (among other suspicious things) and when I'm traveling it can be difficult to find restaurants that I can trust.

As a result, 've become someone who assumes I won't be able to find things to eat.  I even packed a bigger suitcase so I could include snacks when I went to Orlando last month.  And I'm always incredibly grateful when a friend or family member whom I'm going to visit asks me in advance what foods they can have around the house for me.  That's love.

This is an incredibly incomplete, subjective list, but I hope it helps you think about creative, relatively healthy snacking for yourself or a loved one.

1.  Banana with Peanut Butter
This may seem like a throwback to childhood, but a sliced banana with some awesome peanut butter is so satisfying.  It's a little bit sweet and a little bit savory and just right for a quick breakfast, an afternoon snack, or even dessert.    A word of warning:  as with all packaged foods, you must read the label on the peanut butter to make sure it is truly gluten free (for me, as well as soy free).  If you want to make this even more special, look in the natural foods section of your grocery for Earth Balance Peanut Butter with Coconut Oil.  This spread is a life changer!  If that's not available to you or you want to improvise, I recommend drizzling a little honey on top of regular peanut butter.  Very messy yet extremely tasty.

2.  Enjoy Life Snickerdoodles
This company is wholly committed to making allergy friendly products that actually taste fantastic.  Free from 8 of the most common allergens, you can trust that it's extremely likely there is a product from this company that will be safe for you or a friend.  My favorite, the Snickerdoodles, are actually soft and have an excellent spiced flavor.  I've read the label, and I honestly think the secret to the cookies tasting so good is the rosemary extract.  (Rosemary extract! Who would have thunk it?)  Coming in at a close second are their Double Chocolate Brownie Cookies, though I have to eat them sparingly, partly because too much chocolate doesn't sit well with my stomach and partly because they are so addicting that it's hard to stop at just one!

3.  Clementines & Apples
Fruit may seem a bit obvious, but having fruit around is convenient and healthy.  Clementines satisfy my cravings for something sweet and sour, and apples are great to take with me on the road.  I can easily eat them in between business meetings.  I also don't have to worry about either of these foods getting stuck in my teeth, and that is always a big concern for me!

4.  Corn Tortilla Chips
Again, you have to read the label to be sure that the tortilla chips are 100% corn and cooked in corn oil, but a handful of these with some homemade salsa or 5 minute guacamole is the perfect afternoon (or late night) snack.  (Want to make your own 5 minute guac?  In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 avocados [skin and seed discarded], 1 peeled and smashed clove of garlic, 2 or 3 tablespoons of diced red onion, 2 tablespoons of roughly chopped cilantro, a pinch of kosher salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.  Pulse about 10 times, until avocado is smooth and ingredients incorporated.  It's perfect every time.)

5.  Nuts
A palmful of roasted cashews or candied almonds can stop a hunger crash from spiraling out of control.   I put nuts in a small ziplock bag or reusable plastic container and tuck them into my purse.  I'm especially thankful I have them when I am sitting at a band competition to watch my stepdaughter and everyone around me is eating hot dogs or M&Ms.  They are probably jealous that I thought ahead and brought something more interesting to eat.

6.  Sweetened Almond Milk
You can buy vanilla or chocolate almond milk in "juice box" sizes and they don't need to be refrigerated.  I take them with me when I travel for work (I even took some to Orlando) along with my own Gluten Free Honey Nut (Corn) Chex cereal.  Sure, people look at me strange when I come to breakfast with my own food, but I'm awfully thankful that I have it when I see only danishes and dried up scrambled eggs available at the hotel's continental breakfast.  And a bowl of cereal in the afternoon tastes just as good as it does in the morning.

Now you have seen my list, but what about you?  Do you have a go-to gluten free snack for yourself or a friend that you recommend? 


5B: Believers in Better Beer, Bites, and Blogging

Last weekend I attended the first Cincinnati blogging conference called 5B: Believers in Better Beer, Bites, and Blogging.  It was an inclusive event open to beer bloggers, food bloggers, and general lifestyle bloggers.  I had only met two people in real life who were attending the event, and I was a little nervous.  Would I bring anything to the table?  Would the other attendees have much more advanced blogs than my own?  It turns out most of the other attendees had the same concerns as me.  We were all pleasantly surprised by what the conference offered us.

The word that lingers with me, even several days after the conference has wrapped, is community.  I hope that feeling of being a part of something stays with me as I work to improve my blog and my presence in the food blog community.

Looking for some new blogs to follow?  Might I recommend:  Hounds in the Kitchen, Eat, Drink, and Be Married, Taste and See Cincinnati, Udandi.com,  wine me dine me (in Cincinnati)Ginny Tonic's musings on the Charlie Tonic Hour website, The World in my Kitchen, What's Cookin' Now radio show, Fake Food Free, Eggplant To Go, Cookerati, and Hoperatives.  There were even more bloggers in attendance that I really enjoyed meeting and I hope we all meet again soon!


You Get a Bonus Day

I wish there had been a better time than the night before Valentine's day for me to get around to posting this recipe.  I'm afraid it will get lost in a sea of pink and red recipes and you will never get around to trying this for yourself.

But I urge you to take a stand:  pink food is appropriate 364 other days a year.  And since this year is a leap year, you get a bonus day.  Take that bonus day to treat yourself to Roasted Beet Risotto.

The process of making the risotto was simple enough, especially since I made the beet puree a few days in advance, though it did require standing next to the stove for a half an hour; a sacrifice that I'm willing to make when the payoff is this big.  And when I served it along side some of our favorite roasted chicken and a green salad, Tim thought maybe he had forgotten a special occassion.

Roasted Beet Risotto
recipe adapted slightly from Gourmet, November 2004
serves 6 to 8

3/4 cup to 1 cup roasted beet puree
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 small onion, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups Arborio or Jasmine rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
salt & pepper

In a medium pot, bring broth and water to a simmer.  Cover and keep on low heat.

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 minutes.  Add rice and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.

Add the wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until wine is absorbed.  Stir in 1 ladle (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup broth/water mixture) liquid and stir until liquid is absorbed.  Continue simmering, stirring, and adding liquid, 1 ladle at a time, allowing liquid to be absorbed before adding more, about 20 minutes, until rice is creamy and  just tender.  When there is about 2 ladles of liquid left, stir in fresh thyme.  Add another ladle of liquid and beet puree.

Salt and pepper to taste (about 1 tbsp kosher salt and 1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper).  Thin if necessary with remaining liquid.  Risotto should spread in the bowl or plate.  Serve hot.


Just Fishin'

You might think this is a blog post about basketball, especially when you look at these photos.  But I urge you to be open minded.  I'm actually here to talk to you about my dad.  Specifically, my dad taking me fishing.

When I was a little girl, my dad owned a fishing boat.  It was silver and red and reflected the light like the surface of water when the sun hit it.  On Saturdays he used to leave before the sun came up and head off to the lake, early enough for him to be able to put his boat in the water just as the first light was breaking.  I'm no fish expert, but I used to imagine that he needed to get into the fishing channels before the blue gills and catfish woke up.

While he was gone, my mom would assemble an assortment of picnic items: chips and dip, sandwiches, fruit salad, cans of soda, a cooler full of ice; and then she would pack everything (including my sister, my brother, and sometimes even the dog) into our van and drive us to the lake to meet my dad.  

Dad would meet us at the picnic area, parking his boat along the dock.  We'd eat, and then when we were done everyone would pile into the boat, securely fastened into life jackets, and Dad would drive the boat across the lake through the wake area, where we'd have to dodge water skiers and tubers until we reached a quiet channel.

I was never afraid of piercing the little worms with the fishing hook and would volunteer to bait my sister's hook as well (she wasn't as interested in fishing).  Then we'd cast our lines in and wait...as patiently as kids can wait...for our bobber to be pulled under and to feel a little tug on our line.  Dad would help us reel the line in, sometimes revealing that our worm had been stolen and sometimes we would have a silver, slippery fish.  Dad showed us how to hold the fish's fins back while we slipped the hook out of its lip, and then we'd take some pictures of our catch before we tossed it back.

I heard a song on the radio today called Just Fishin' by Trace Adkins.  If you've never heard it, the lyrics are about a man who takes his daughter fishing.  It seems this narrator doesn't know how to relate to his daughter's world of girly things, but he loves to spend time with her.  As I listened to it, it brought a few tears to my eyes, because it made me think of my dad.

He's a lot of things to a lot of people.  He's a husband.  He's a teacher.  He's a high school basketball coach.  (These pictures were taken at a recent game.  My dad is the man in the middle of the huddle.)  But to me--he's just my dad.  He used to take me fishing.

Happy (belated) birthday to you, Dad.  



I know, I know.  I teased you with the promise of beets and then I disappeared!  I have good news and bad news.  The good news:  beet recipes--good ones--are still coming.  The bad news:  I was in Orlando.

Okay, that bad news might only be bad news for you if you were suffering in the short blast of winter weather the Midwest experienced last week.  Then you are likely jealous that while you were searching the underwear drawer for your thermal underpants, I spent four beautiful, sunny, relaxing, days at a Disney resort, completely paid for by my employer.  It wasn't all leisure--I spent two of those days in meetings--but hell if it isn't more fun to work in Orlando than it would have been to work at home.  

It was much more fun. 


I sat by the pool.

I went to Downtown Disney.

I also went to Epcot.

I ate gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free food at every single Disney restaurant.  They were incredibly accommodating, even sending the chef out to my table to write my order on a special ticket.  I felt like a VIP diner.  Even better than that, I felt healthy the entire time I was in Orlando.  Thank you, Disney.  You can't know how much that meant to me.  

One of the best parts of the week?  Coming home to my darling, who was waiting for me at the airport.  Orlando can't beat that. 

All pics were taken on my iPhone and edited with Instagram.