Sichuan Party Mix

We started yesterday with sweet, and move on to spicy today with this savory and tongue-tingling Sichuan Party Mix. Check out Darcie’s post for a little backstory involving her days in Shanghai, which provided the inspiration for this terrific recipe!

For a roundup of all of our Advent Calendar posts for the year, click here.
Darcie can be found at her website, Gourmet Creative and on Instagram at @darcie_hunter.
Find me on Instagram at @amyrothphoto, Pinterest at @amyrothphoto and my portfolio at (you guessed it) Amy Roth Photo.

Sichuan Party Mix

Allergy Peanuts, Wheat
Meal type Snack
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
This Sichuan Party Mix couldn't be easier to make — toss everything together, then bake!

Ingredients

Sichuan Party Mix

  • 1/2 cup pretzels
  • 1/2 cup soup crackers
  • 1/2 cup sesame melba rounds
  • 1/2 cup salted, roasted edamame
  • 1 cup salted, roasted peanuts

Seasoning Mix

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried, sliced Asian chilies
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

Directions

Sichuan Party Mix
Toss all of the nuts and crackers together (feel free to change up the mix according to your taste).
Seasoning Mix
Melt the butter in a microwavable bowl and stir in the spices until well combined.
Pour seasoning mix over the party mix and stir to coat. Spread the mix on a baking sheet and toast in a preheated oven at 350°F (280°C) for 10 minutes, until fragrant. Allow to cool, then arrange in gift bags or boxes.

Let’s Prime the Pumps

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m doing the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge this month, and it’s going really well! I’ve cooked more in three days than I usually do in a week and everything’s been healthy and delicious, not to mention economical with all of the leftovers. And while I didn’t do this to lose weight, I’ve already dropped a little Christmas padding from my midsection, so I’m excited to continue after seeing such fast results.

Why are you doing this challenge, anyway?

My diet is pretty good overall, but what started as an occasional treat (a little dessert here, some pizza or a slice of bread there) became the rule rather than the exception. Knowing that wheat does a number on me and that my weekly burger and fries weren’t doing me any favors either, I decided plunging headfirst into an eating plan that eliminated the bad stuff and encouraged more good stuff was the way to go. (YMMV, of course.) Making it easier was just how crappy I felt after all of my Christmas indulgences.

Without getting too preachy or going into too much detail — you can find all the information you need and then some here — I’m concentrating on the following:

  • Eliminating grains, legumes, vegetable oils and refined sugars. (This is the most important part for me, though I’ll add legumes back in small quantities after the 21-day mark.)
  • Loading my meals with lots of fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Eating quality fish and pastured/grass-fed meats and eggs.
  • Eating good, satiating fats — grass-fed animal fats, coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil are doing me right right now. 

And that’s basically it.

Our meals so far

I decided against a daily post because I’m cooking enough to make leftovers, so there isn’t always something new to share, plus we’re still eating out once a week. 

Primal Beef Shank Braise | Amy Roth Photo

Meal 1 – Braised Beef Shin

My decision to make this braise was made for me when I discovered the door to our big freezer open and this shin partially thawed. It’s from Snoep Winkel Farm, where all of the beef they sell is grass-fed and pigs and chickens are pastured. I also love them because Basia & Gary keep me supplied with beef tongue, organ meats and chicken feet whenever they’re available. Yum!

Braising is one of my favorite cooking techniques because you can be pretty imprecise and still turn out an excellent meal. Just remember a few simple steps:

  • brown your meat to create a fond in the pan
  • deglaze the pan with whatever liquid you like
  • don’t completely cover the meat with liquid, but leave a little sticking out from the top
  • braise covered in a 300°F oven for about 3 hours

I used the vegetables available to me — onions, celery, garlic, carrots and mushrooms — plus about 1/2 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes and served it over spaghetti squash and topped it with a sharp, garlicky gremolata. It was a rich, satisfying dish and the perfect way to kick off this new eating plan. If you’re not familiar with braising and you’d like a basic recipe to follow, try this recipe for short rib ragu and adapt it any way you like.

Primal Beef Shank Braise with Spaghetti Squash | Amy Roth Photo


 

Primal Chicken Vegetable Soup | Amy Roth Photo

Meal 2 – Chicken & Vegetable Soup

This meal took advantage of a leftover roasted chicken half plus made liberal use of our vegetable crisper drawer and freezer. When tomatoes and cilantro are in market, I make batches upon batches of Daisy Martinez’s sofrito and freeze them in 1/2-cup portions to use throughout the winter when I need to add a little zing to my meals. (It also makes the task of cooking a full meal much less onerous if all you have to do is sauté frozen seasonings instead of chopping onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, etc. before you even turn on the stove.)

I chopped the chicken and put it aside as the bones simmered in 1 quart chicken stock plus 1 quart water. I chopped up a few celery stalks, a few carrots and broke half a head of cauliflower into small florets. In a pan with olive oil set over medium heat, I cooked the frozen sofrito until it had released its water and softened, then I added the carrots and celery to cook for a few minutes and added a big pinch of kosher salt. I fished out the bones from the stock and added the sofrito mixture with the chopped Pomi tomatoes I didn’t use in the braise. I let it simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots were nearly softened, then added the cauliflower and chicken to the pot along with a package of frozen peas (I LOVE peas in my vegetable soup) and half a package of French-cut green beans. Once the veggies were softened and seasonings adjusted, we were ready to eat. And we’re still eating it, two days later! Gotta love soup.

Of course, there are all sorts of ways you can dress this up: Add a parmesan rind to the broth early on for extra savoriness, add a little pesto to each bowl of soup, add other vegetables as your heart desires, top with sesame oil and/or Sriracha…you get the point. It’s soup! How hard can it be?


 

Gluten-Free, Primal Za'atar Crackers Side | Amy Roth Photo

A Snack — Almond Crackers with Za’atar

Snacks are the big downfall of healthy eating plans for a lot of people. You want something quick and satisfying, but not necessarily a piece of fruit or the old standby, carrot sticks and hummus. Well, these primal-friendly crackers from Elana’s Pantry are just perfect. She has several cracker recipes on her website, but I chose to adapt the recipe for salt and pepper crackers by eliminating the pepper and halving the salt, brushing the rolled-out dough with olive oil and dusting it liberally with za’atar and crunchy finishing salt before cutting and baking.

All of Elana’s recipes use finely ground almond flour, so Bob’s Red Mill is out, unfortunately. It’s great for recipes that need something more coarsely ground like meal, but doesn’t work with the recipes on her website. I’ve had luck with Honeyville, Wellbee’s, and JK Gourmet brands.

You know how much I love za’atar, right? It’s a generic name for popular Middle Eastern blends of dried herbs and spices. There are all sorts of varieties out there, but my favorite ones tend to be heavy on sumac and sesame. The blend I bought at Penzey’s (where it’s called “zatar”) is delicious, but I’ve been just as happy with all of the varieties I’ve found at Kalustyan’s over the years. I’m sure any number of other spice shops would have it, too, so explore and enjoy!


A Word About Fats

I’ve been obsessed with coconut ghee for the past week; it’s replaced any other oil I used to use for sautéeing. You can buy it online, but it’s easy to make and lasts a while at room temperature, so there’s really no need to spend extra for it. All you do is add coconut oil to grass-fed clarified butter and you have a delicious, healthy fat with a high smoke point. I loaded up on a high-quality coconut oil from Tropical Traditions* the last time they had a sale — which they do often, so sign up for email reminders — and use it a lot, but it does taste fairly coconutty, so cutting it with clarified butter eliminates that flavor while retaining all of the benefits of coconut oil. If you’d like to use just coconut oil, they have a wonderful, neutral-tasting expeller-pressed oil, but I like the coconut ghee so much, I don’t think I’ll ever need to go back to it.

What About Breakfast and What Do You Drink?

Oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, grits and toast are out, which seems like a big deal until you realize you can have all of the pastured eggs and bacon you want. Actually, I don’t often want to start my day with a big meal, so I’ve been sticking with my green shakes. I’ve never enjoyed sweet smoothies, so what I have is more like a salad in a glass than the fruit-heavy shakes you might be thinking of. I know that’s a hard sell, but if that sort of thing appeals to you, I posted a general recipe here. These days, I add kefir and ginger and don’t really bother with the apple or cucumber, but as with so much of what I make, it changes depending on what’s at hand.

And as for drinks, I cut out all soda long ago, so that’s been easy. I drink water, seltzer, coffee and tea, plus the occasional glass of red wine, which is beneficial to both health and outlook!

*If you order by clicking on any of my Tropical Traditions links and have never ordered from them in the past, you’ll receive a free book on Virgin Coconut Oil, and I’ll receive a discount coupon for referring you. Same goes for Amazon, minus the coconut oil book.

It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to shoot some promotional photos for the new cookbook, The Ultimate Beer Lover’s Happy Hour, which is out today! The author is John Schlimm, whose three vegan cookbooks I’ve been lucky enough to photograph (The Tipsy Vegan, Grilling Vegan Style and The Cheesy Vegan), so I knew I was in for a treat. His latest cookbook features bar snacks and beer cocktails that are perfect for parties and pair nicely with craft beers and seasonal brews. I have to say everything I prepared for the shoot was wonderful, but the ones pictured above were my favorites. And with permission from the publisher, I get to share the recipes with you!

I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in those mixed nuts, so be careful with them; they’re addictive!

Grilled Portobello Burgers

1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons dry white vermouth
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, divided
2 Anaheim chile peppers, seeded, each pepper carved into 2 wedges
2 jalapeños, finely chopped
8 portobello mushrooms (about 1 pound), black gills under the caps scraped away
4 potato bread rolls/buns or regular hamburger buns
2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 romaine lettuce leaves, halved and trimmed to fit inside the rolls
1 tomato, sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced

Whisk the canola oil with the balsamic vinegar, vermouth, garlic powder, onion powder, Old Bay Seasoning, soy sauce, Tabasco sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Add the Anaheim chile wedges, jalapeños, and mushrooms, and toss to coat thoroughly. Marinate the mixture at room temperature for 45 minutes.

Lightly oil the grates, if necessary, and heat the grill to medium. Grill the pepper wedges, skin side down, until blackened, about 10 minutes, turning after 5 minutes to create crisscross grill marks. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then rub off the skins with paper towels.

Meanwhile, grill the mushrooms, covered, until tender, about 8 minutes, turning once after about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Split the buns and toast them. Stir the tarragon into the mayonnaise in a small bowl. Generously spread the mayonnaise mixture on both insides of the toasted buns.

Place two grilled mushrooms on the bottom half of each hamburger roll, and top with a lettuce leaf, and tomato and red onion slices. Close the burgers, and serve promptly.

Alehouse Agave and Chipotle Mixed Nuts

2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried chipotle powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups pecans, almonds, unsalted peanuts, and/or walnuts
3/4 cup Wheat Chex or Chex Mix
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon seasoned salt, such as Lawry’s

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the agave, chipotle powder, and cinnamon in a medium-size skillet and heat the mixture over low heat until it’s warmed through. Add the nuts of your choice, and stir to coat evenly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the nuts and Wheat Chex in a single layer on the sheet. Bake until the nuts are fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once. Allow the nuts to cool slightly for 1 to 2 minutes.

Combine the brown sugar and seasoned salt in a medium-size bowl. Add the warm nuts and Chex, and toss to coat evenly. Spread out the nuts on a sheet of waxed paper, and let them dry completely. Once dry, store the nuts in an airtight container for up to a week.

Beach Party Punch

4 ounces rum
4 ounces vodka
4 ounces amaretto
4 ounces gin
24 ounces Pale Lager, Fruit Beer, or Kölsch
1 (12-ounce) can Sprite or ginger ale
8 ounces orange juice
8 ounces pineapple juice
Ice
Garnish with your choice of orange slices, pineapple chunks, and maraschino cherries (optional)

Combine all the ingredients, except the optional garnishes, in a medium-size to large punch bowl, stirring well. Garnish as desired, including freezing some orange slices, pineapple chunks, and maraschino cherries inside an ice mold.

Field to Feast: More Carrots

We have Dorie Greenspan to thank for this recipe dish idea. See, as I was flipping through her brilliant cookbook Around My French Table, the recipe that opens the salads chapter caught my eye. It was so minimal as to be more of a suggestion than a recipe, so I decided it must be perfect. It’s nothing more than avocado halves with lemon juice, pistachio oil to fill and fleur de sel. You know my obsession with avocados, so it shouldn’t be too shocking to learn that I tried it within the day, fell head over heels and have indulged with abandon since then. While it’s well worth investing in a bottle of pistachio oil for this one use alone, I have another for you. It hit me when I was faced with another bunch of carrots and no desire to make more soup, that pistachios could just be the perfect answer again.

The carrot preparation is slightly more involved than the that of the avocados, but still easy enough to serve in well under an hour. All you have to do is to toss whole carrots (well-scrubbed and peeled, if you like) with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then roast them in a single layer at 400° F for about 30 minutes — more time for larger carrots, less for smaller ones. You want to roast them until they’re tender enough to offer little resistance to a knife. Fresh out of the oven, drizzle the carrots with pistachio oil and toss them around on the baking sheet to coat them well, then sprinkle with a little lemon juice. Transfer the carrots to a serving platter and top with ground pistachios and finishing salt, and you’re done. Perfection.

Pistachio Carrot | Minimally Invasive

Day 8, Macaroons

Chocolate-Drizzled Pecan Macaroons

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 8

For our Save the Date wedding cards, Gil and I originally wanted something along the lines of, “A Cajun Mennonite and a Jew walk into a bar…” Upon further reflection, we decided fielding questions or hearing the end of the joke from a couple hundred people while we were planning a wedding in another city wasn’t the brightest idea, so the card defaulted to more traditional wording. But you can see that, right from the very beginning, we knew how to blend.

While we both came into this thing with an appreciation for Mel Brooks and Faulkner House Books, Gil has taken on LSU football and the whole “Christmas with a large family + boudin” thing with gusto, and I’ve learned to appropriate a few of his holidays while putting a southern spin on them. Example the first: Pecan-Brown Sugar Macaroons.

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 8

. . . with bourbon vanilla extract and drizzled chocolate! Happy Hanukkah, y’all! (I know I should be frying something instead, but these are easier and leave my house smelling a whole lot better.)

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 8

I started with my go-to recipe from the past few years, but wasn’t sure what the added moisture from the brown sugar would do, so I used a little less. The pecans were a one-for-one swap for the almonds, and the bourbon-vanilla because you can’t have pecans and brown sugar without a little bourbon, amirite? (I’ll get to the finer points of making your own vanilla extract in an upcoming post, so stay tuned.) I probably don’t have to tell you how delicious these were, so I’ll just let Ru do the talking . . .

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 8

Honestly! I took Otis out for five minutes and came back to discover this. My initial surprise turned to wonder. Why did he leave three? Is he ok? Is he saving them for a midnight snack? To quote Ron Burgundy, “I’m not even mad; that’s amazing!” (And yeah, we got confirmation that Ru was the guilty party during our walk the next morning. That jerk.)

Chocolate-Drizzled Pecan Macaroons
Print
Pecan Macaroons
Prep Time
40 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
55 mins
 

Pecan macaroons with bourbon and brown sugar, glazed with melted chocolate.

Course: Snack
Servings: 16
Calories: 68 kcal
Ingredients
  • .25 cup organic palm sugar, or brown sugar packed
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • .25 cup pecan pieces toasted and finely chopped
  • .5 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract (or pure vanilla extract)
  • pinch coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon coconut flour
  • .25 cup bittersweet chocolate chips melted
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Whisk together sugar and egg white in a large bowl. Stir in the remaining ingredients and allow mixture to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

  2. Form dough into sixteen 1-tablespoon mounds and drop each onto sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake macaroons until golden-brown on bottoms and edges, about 15 minutes. Cool on sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

  3. To finish, using a spoon, drizzle melted chocolate over cooled macaroons. Macaroons will keep, covered, for up to one week.

  4. Macaroons will keep, covered, for up to 1 week.

Recipe Notes

Recipe: Homemade Vanilla Extract

Adapted heavily from Martha Stewart.

I Have Two Words For You

Gluten-free treat with hazelnuts and chocolate | Minimally Invasive

OK: “Nutella” pudding.

Gluten-free treat with chocolate and hazelnuts | Minimally Invasive

Strictly speaking, it’s a gianduja pudding because there’s no Nutella product in there, but that doesn’t matter — if you love hazelnuts and chocolate, you’ll fall hard for this dessert.

Hazelnuts | Minimally Invasive

I was perusing Food52 a few days ago and noticed a little “We Think You’ll Like” section in the corner with this recipe leaping from the screen. Oh, Food52, you know me so well.

Gluten-free treat with hazelnuts and chocolate | Minimally Invasive

Oh, and the recipe taught me something new — Dorie Greenspan’s method of aerating the pudding before it chills to get an even silkier texture.

Gluten-free treat with hazelnuts and chocolate | Minimally Invasive

Because of that little step, this pudding is light and airy, while Nutella is dense and perhaps too rich to eat much of in one sitting. Not a problem here.

Gluten-free treat with hazelnuts and chocolate

In fact, it’s gone far too soon. Get the recipe here and see if you can’t manage to scrounge up more will power than we did.

Note: I changed only one small thing in this perfect recipe, and topped the pudding with chocolate shavings just before serving. Not a crucial step by any means, more along the lines of eye candy than anything.

Macaroons

Gil tends to half-ass his way through Passover every year (since I showed up) and I’m more than happy to indulge that half-assery, as it makes things So Much Easier for me in the kitchen. He avoids the major grains, but still indulges in beans and spices and continues to be all honey badger about pork and shellfish. Yes!

Because I’m already gluten-free, I’ve taken this grain-free opportunity to go more fully Primal this week, using the 80/20 principle (if you’re doing the Primal thing 80% of the time, don’t worry so much about the other 20%). These macaroons were my entire 20% for the day and I wish I’d made more.

Despite lacking the baking gene, I resolved to make macaroons after eating one of those canned abominations so prevalent this time of year. It turned out to be quite easy, surprisingly enough, thanks to Martha.

The recipe didn’t include chocolate, but c’mon. How could I not?

Gil took one look and nearly leapt out of his skin. “They look real!”

I managed to save a few from his clutches, but they’re all gone now. Wait, when does Passover end? I think I have time to squeeze in another batch before then.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Macaroons”

Pastalaya, crawfish frittata, buffet at Pancho’s

The Hank Williams classic updated for 2009, which is a roundabout way of saying I spent last weekend visiting family in Des Allemands for my nephew’s 7th birthday. The food was terrific (as usual), and the company even more so, though the birthday boy completely ignored his auntie. Oh, well. That’s a little boy for you.

I didn’t take many pictures this time around, but did manage to snap this one, which is quickly becoming a favorite:

090613_deighton
My new cousin, who couldn’t quite decide about me.

While I was away, Gil and The Ambassador stopped by the farmers’ market to pick up a few things for me, but I didn’t have a chance to use all of the spinach and arugula during the week. After getting fresh supplies this Saturday, I decided to use the week-old produce in one shot with a pesto to go with some leftover whole wheat pasta. It was all very free-form, but here’s how it went.

I toasted two handfuls of walnuts until they were warm and fragrant, then put them in the food processor to cool while I worked on the the rest of the pesto.

090613_walnuts_processor

After they’d cooled somewhat, I pulsed them with a clove of garlic until the whole thing smelled like heaven, assuming your idea of heaven is warm walnuts and garlic.

090613_walnuts_garlic

I added about one part spinach to two parts arugula, filling the bowl of the processor twice before pulsing; that’s the amount of the greens I had on hand, but you can adjust to taste.

090613_pesto

There was also quite a bit of Parmesan, good olive oil, zest from 1/2 lemon, and salt & pepper, all blended together until I was left with a satisfyingly bright green mess.

090613_pesto2

Which, when tossed with leftover whole wheat pasta, became an easy, light lunch, perfect for the oppressively humid day.

090613_pestopasta

Rufus after the jump.

Continue reading “Pastalaya, crawfish frittata, buffet at Pancho’s”