Ally 2.0 and Bell Pepper Pots

This past week, I’ve been in Denver having a fantastic time with old and new friends. I was there to celebrate one of my best friends weddings. You saw her bachelorette party here.

Rebecca and I met in college. We were always the “mature” ones. We were both in very different stages of our lives than we are now. We’ve both grown and matured even more than we already had up to the point of our meeting at Gonzaga.

During all of our reminiscing, laughter and tears (happy), we kept referring to our “old” selves, which brought me to a revelation of sorts…

This “old Ally” was still me with just a little (maybe a lot) more beer, late nights, and possibly irrational decisions (even with my “maturity”). Not necessarily bad, just different and younger…

The “new Ally” has a head more squarely on her shoulders. While I still might be uncertain about what the future holds (and still drink a few beers here and there, the wedding included 🙂 ), I am so much more certain than ever before that I have the faith and strength through Christ that he will take my hand and lead me where He has planned me to be. That doesn’t mean it’s any easier, I still struggle daily with being aware of His work and direction in my life (my self guidance and doubt often takes over).

But one thing I do know is that I don’t think I could have gotten to this new and improved (in my humble opinion) Ally, without the “old Ally.”

Really, what I’m trying to say is… we all go through seasons in our lives. Some of us (me especially) are lucky enough to be able to transition through the changes with the same wonderful, loving, and endlessly supportive people.

Woah… That was deep. And I was writing in the third person.

Now let’s eat.

This recipe is adapted from a cookbook my sister got me for my birthday. Cooking with Trader Joes. It’s a brilliant idea, recipes with most of the ingredients from Trader Joes. That being said, I don’t think I bought any of this from Trader Joes… it’s just a bunch of really good recipes.

I tweaked this a little and added some spiced crumbled sauteed tofu for a little extra protein.

When planning to crumble tofu, it’s always best to lightly compress and let it drain for 20 minutes or so. Wrap it with a clean dish towl and the weight of the fruit bowl will do the magic!

Then place in a hot pan to brown on both sides and start to break apart.

After its completely crumbled, add the taco seasoning.

Next add in the drained black beans, salsa, and rice to meld the flavors and heat through.

I think I need to start making prettier food.

While the tofu cooks and the mixture sits on the back burner, slice the peppers in half and clean out the seeds. I like using the variety pack of peppers, the colors are so vibrant and fun!

Scoop the tofu/rice/bean mixture into the pepper halves and place in the oven for 30 minutes.

Top with a little extra salsa and crumbled cotija (Mexican) cheese. And eat with your eyes, your tummy, and your fork!

It’s such an easy, filling, simple recipe and the other good news?!?! Two halves only has 420 calories. The original, no tofu, version only has 320 calories! Serve with a nice side salad and you’ve got a fantastic meal for less than 500 calories! Tastes even better now, right?!?

Here’s how to do it….

Festive Spicy Pepper Pots

Serves 4-8. (8 is the perfect side dish and 4 is a nice hearty meal)

3 C. cooked brown rice

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (16 oz.) block of extra firm tofu

2 tsp. olive oil

1 small (4 oz.) can green chiles

1/2 sweet onion diced

3/4 to 1 tbsp. taco seasoning

4 bell peppers, sliced in half length-wise, stems and seeds removed

1 (16 oz.) jar of Salsa (mild to medium works best)

Cilantro, optional (for garnish)

Cotija Cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start by opening the tofu and drain the liquid. Wrap in paper towels or a dish towel and compress for 20 minutes to remove any excess water.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the diced onion until translucent. Place the block of tofu in the pan, allowing each side to brown before beginning to crumble.

Using your spoon, begin to break the block into bite size pieces, alot like crumbling ground beef. Let the pieces lightly brown and then add in the taco seasoning. Cook the tofu with the seasoning for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, allowing the taco seasoning to flavor the tofu.

Add in the cooked rice, salsa, black beans and green chiles and stir to combine.

Stuff the mixture in the pepper halves and place in one or two baking dishes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the peppers are tender, about 30 minutes.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days (I made it just fine to 6-7) or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

It’s Madness! (And Mushroom Salmon Risotto)

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks… you know that the first two weekends of the NCAA basketball tournament have come to a close.

It’s the most fascinating month of the year. A 12 seed beats a 2 seed. Loyalties are formed and broken in an instant. Being a traitor is somewhat acceptable, for the sake of your bracket. So many life concepts are just turned upside down. And it’s all for college basketball. Oh how I love it!

College basketball, college football, cars and handyman projects. These are my ‘man’ things. My poor dad had to have someone to tell about the wonders of horsepower … and in our family, that was me.

Whether you like basketball or not, it doesn’t matter …that’s the great thing about risotto it’s non-discriminatory. It’s dainty yet stick to your ribs delicious. Granted, it’s probably not the dish to make during an intense game. It takes some minor babysitting. Stirring, adding broth, stirring and repeat…. but you can neglect it a little more than the pros say and it still comes out fantastic.

Here’s how it goes:

Not shown here: Garlic (minced), Oil, Arborio Rice, Salmon, Tarragon, Basil, S&P, Cheese, and Broth

After sauteing the garlic and onion in oil. Add in the rice and cook for a few minutes with the onion. Then add the mushrooms and start adding broth one or two cups at a time until fully absorbed before adding some more broth. (See full instructions below.)

My biggest tip for making risotto? It’s the pot. A nice cast iron french oven bit. A Le Creuset type but there are so many less expensive / just as good options out there. Head to Macy’s or TJ Maxx and you can find a good 7 qt. pot for $40-70. It’s money well spent. I promise you.

It’s the perfect balance of carbs, protein, and veggies. Top it with curly cues of cheese, a little zest for color, put it on a pretty plate and you’re set. In the tournament of delicious, I would have advanced this dish all the way to the championship. (Sorry – I just couldn’t leave you without a super nerdy tournament reference.)

Mushroom Salmon Risotto

Serves 6-8 or More depending on serving size.

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. Olive Oil

1 tbsp. Butter

1 Sweet Onion Chopped

2-3 Garlic Cloves Minced

1 tsp. basil (dried)

1/2 to 3/4 tsp. tarragon (dried)

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 small carton of Mushrooms – Sliced (probably like a cup and a half)

1 Lemon (Zest and Juice)

2 C. arborio rice

6-8 C. broth

6 Oz. Salmon, cooked and flaked. (I must admit, I used 2 cans… but fresh would be even better!)

About 1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded/shaved Cheese (Mixture of Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, etc.)

Instructions:

Heat oil and melt butter in a heavy bottomed pot. Add chopped onions and cook until just translucent, add garlic. After about a minute, add in mushroom and saute for a few minutes. Don’t cook all the way because the broth will help to finish them off. Add in both the basil and tarragon.

Then add in the arborio rice and stir. Let the rice toast and soak up the onion/mushroom flavors for 2-3 minutes. Start adding broth, one cup at a time. Stir occasionally. (My tip here is to add maybe 2 cups of broth or more so there’s is longer between additions and not quite as much babysitting. You will still want to make sure to stir every so often or it will stick to the bottom of the pan.)

Continue adding broth until the rice is softened. You’ll want to taste it… to make sure. Adding salt and pepper as needed. Add in the cheese and lemon zest with the risotto and squeeze in the lemon juice. Finally, add in the salmon and fold/stir in gently.

This can easily be a main dish but could also go as a side… just top with a little more zest and little extra cheese, of course!

Sweet Potatoes with Streusel Topping

Thanksgiving was just over a week ago.

The food coma is over. My jeans are still tighter. It’s time for us to get real about the best dish of the day.

Marshmallows are light, fluffy and delicious. Perfect for S’mores and Hot Cocoa…. but not sweet potatoes…

It’s one of the 7 deadly cooking sins. (I don’t know what the other 6 are but it sounds dramatic- this is big time.)

I know it’s not traditional but come take this ‘sweet’ journey with me and there will be no turning back.

The trick to our family sweet potato recipe is the Streusel topping. It’s butter, it’s sugar, it’s pecans (puh-kans not pea-cans), what’s not to love?!

Here’s how it goes:

Sweet potatoes (well actually yams but sweet potatoes are white and boring). Use fresh sweet potatoes, not canned, it makes a HUGE difference.

Streusel goodness.

Sprinkling the goodness, nice and even. If you notice any uneven places, just eat a few of the streusel clumps. I won’t tell.

It’s a popular favorite with our Thanksgiving crowd.

A quick snap-shot of my plate on Turkey Day without the tryptophan.

Sweet Potatoes with Streusel Topping

For the potatoes:

  • 3-4 Medium Sweet Potatoes, cooked and peeled
  • 1/2 C. Butter, melted
  • 1/2 C. Sugar
  • 1/3 C. Milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla

For the topping:

  • 1 C. Chopped Pecans
  • 1/3 C. Flour
  • 1/3 C. Butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 C. Brown Sugar

Cook the sweet potatoes. You can use the microwave or oven, just like you would cook a baked potato. Poke a lot of holes in them and stick them in the microwave for 5 minutes checking softness periodically, or in the oven, wrapped in foil at 350 until softened (30 minutes) or so. Alternatively you can peel and cut the potatoes raw and place them on the stove and boil until tender.

Once the potatoes are cooked, combine with the other ingredients and mix with a hand mixer (or stand mixer) until smooth. Spread into a greased 9X13 pan.

Combine all streusel ingredients together in a separate bowl, using either a fork or pastry cutter. The mixture should come together in clumps. If it looks too dry, you may need to add a bit more softened butter or try using your hands to bring it together a little better. Sprinkle evenly onto the sweet potatoes.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. It will be golden brown and delicious, but very hot.

Helpful hint: You can make it the day before and refrigerate. Just bring to room temp. to cook on the day of.