Sunday, November 30, 2008

Foodie Find of the Week: Jazzy Bird

I know right? Two Foodie Finds in one week, give or take a day or two...It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, isn't it? Actually, truth be told, I've been sitting on this one for a while now...for like 8 months or so...I know, horrible. But, I'm sharing now so that has to count for something, yes?

I opened my last box of these little guys today, and felt compelled to share. Normally I'm a coffee and chicory kinda girl, assuming I'm making coffee at home and not spending retarded amounts of money for it in the streets ( which happens quite frequently, the latter I mean). I spotted these at a food show some many months back and had half a case of sample product bestowed upon me a few months later. What is it, you ask? Well here's the big reveal: Jazzy Bird Frozen Espresso Shots.
I know what you are probably thinking: frozen espresso?? how good can that be? Hardly a foodie find. Indeed, you'd be wrong. I thought the very same thing. But the correct thought would be this: frozen espresso shots? genius! Perfect for say Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownies or Affagado--when your goal is something much greater than a beverage, and you have no interest in firing up, or more importantly, cleaning an espresso machine to make it yourself. This is for those just pop it out of its little container, zap it in the microwave for 2 minutes, and viola! It's done. You're done, and the only thing to wash is the measuring cup you warmed it in. Ahh yes...genius.

By the by, they are also great as part of a Cappuccino or Cafe Americano, or any other fancy-pants coffee drink you want to whip up in your kitchen. They are only available by the case unless you live in, or around, the New Orleans metro area, which could be considered a minus, but just think of all the espresso-laden concoctions you can make with a whole case...and in all honesty, I tore through my half a case in record time.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Foodie Find of the Week: Snofrisk

I know, I's been forever since I did a Foodie Find of the Week. I have tried, I promise. It's just that all the products I tested fell short of what I would consider to be a "find". Some of them actually made me consider doing a "Run From This As Fast As You Can" weekly post. Last night,though, I found this. I have to confess: it was in an effort to avoid a step in the recipe I was developing for a Winter Salad (to be disclosed sometime in the near future). The crowning glory for my salad was to be a lightly breaded, crispy on the outside, creamy and oozy on the inside goat cheese disc. When planning out the recipe I initially decided that the way to achieve the oozy mild taste and texture of warm cream cheese was to obviously add...cream cheese. Well, half way through my market stop, I began to wonder if there was a such thing as goatmilk cream cheese, after all there's goat milk...goat butter...goatmilk ice cream, and if you're lucky to have a fully stocked market, goatmilk yogurt...shouldn't there be cream cheese, logically speaking I mean? I wonder this type of thing alot, mostly about cheese, and mostly because prior to my fall from grace as a vegan, I had forgone the cheese and my knowledge of the matter has significantly diminished. Anyways..after a little digging at Whole Foods, I can answer with authority. Yes, there should be and there is. Mission accomplished, so I took it home--two packages actually, partly because they were 4oz each and my concieved recipe called for 8oz, and mostly because they were "buy one, get one free". Score.

I was a little skeptical right off, as I usually am of products I wish existed and then magically land in my little fingers moments later. However, upon tasting the Snofrisk, all my skepticism was erased. It's creamy, mild, spreadable, and maintains the tartness of a good chevre. Perfection. It's sort of the Laughing Cow of Goat Cheese I even comes in a triangular container, larger of course than a wedge of Laughing Cow, but still...there's a resemblance. Come to think of it, it sort of resembles the flavor as well...only tinged with goat cheese and with the texture of really good cream cheese...or Creole Cream Cheese, yes, yes...that's it...creole cream cheese, only slightly thicker, and made from goat's milk. Super Score.

Go get some, you'll need two containers for the forthcoming Winter Salad recipe.
I guarantee you won't regret it.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Simply Delicious (v)--Roasted Fingerling Nuggets

I know...potatoes. How boring. How simple. How non-hedonistic.
Well, I'm sorry. I had intended on regailing you with tales of a delicious feast composed of the best vegetarian meat loaf you'd ever had, stewed kale with cipollini onions, roasted fingerling nuggets, a mixed herb salad with my house vinaigrette (even though I am still apprehensive about giving up my "secret" recipe) and a caramel apple tart finished with fleur de sel. However, the meatloaf was mushy, although it could be due to the fact that I pan-fried it instead of baking it because I was short on time. It was also a little too salty for my taste. The stewed kale with cipollini onions was decent, but lacking something still undetermined. Possibly tomatoes? We shall see. As for the mixed herb salad, it was pretty generic as far as salads go, and I think I need to add the herbs a little more aggressively--it turned out to be only slightly more herbaceous than say...grass. The vinaigrette is still under wraps, I'm having issues with letting it go. The apple tart had more of a run-of-the-mill apple pie taste and was sort of "fast-foody" texture-wise, rather than the sticky caramel apple wrapped in buttery pastry I had imagined. It was also, by the way, a complete waste of fleur de sel. Back to the drawing board I suppose. Hopefully, when we revisit them post-makeover they will be shiny new versions of their former selves ready to take on the world, and your palate. Until then, I have this to offer you, perfectly roasted, little golden brown nuggets of French Fingerling goodness. It's not rocket science, and it hardly requires a recipe, but sometimes people (like me) need to be reminded that some of the best food requires only a handful of (quality)ingredients and minimal preparation.

Roasted Fingerling Potato Nuggets
10-12 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed, dried, and sliced into 1" rounds
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400F. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to evenly coat all potato nuggets. Arrange potatoes cut side down in a single layer on a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown, stirring potatoes halfway through the cooking time.

Serves about 8, generously; 10-12 reasonably.

Just a thought: you could scoop the flesh out of each nugget somewhat after baking and mix it in a bowl with some sour cream, a little chives, salt, pepper, maybe some cheese (vegan or regular), possibly some bac-uns...and then pipe it back into the shells for a hors d'oeuvre type snack. Just a thought though, I haven't tried it. If you do, let me know how it turns out.

happy eating,

Friday, November 14, 2008

Confessions of Vegan Chef: Mac and Cheese (v)

I have a confession... I don’t mean to sound arrogant or be boastful, but I know my way around the kitchen. I’ve been “classically trained in the culinary arts”, so it’s not very often that this type of thing happens to me. But every now and again, I have a moment so unbelievably ridiculous that I have to doubt my own abilities as a chef. I was reminded of such an event just yesterday.

It was late yesterday evening and I was searching for something [already] cold to drink (I can’t be bothered to make ice or fill the ice trays—a quality you would think would prompt me to get an ice maker, but the twenty five dollars extra seemed extravagant, which is funny in and of itself because I had just paid about 12 dollars for some salt, go figure..anyways…). In the midst of my search for refreshment and instant gratification, I happened upon a white Corning Ware casserole dish, the contents of which I only vaguely remembered until I peered inside. It was the vegan mac and cheese I had made, or correction...attempted to make, a few weeks prior. That’s right, a few weeks prior—yet another thing I can’t be bothered to do…clean out the refrigerator with consistency. ( Perhaps I should hire a maid and then she can clean out the refrigerator erasing my culinary mishaps, forgotten produce, and poorly chosen micro-brews and keep me in the way of ice and clean dishes…) was supposed to be a thing of beauty—the mac and cheese I mean, and it was on track to be such, until the mishap. Ahh… the mishap. I think we should start at the beginning of the macaroni mess for you to fully appreciate the pricelessness of the outcome. One dreary, cold day a few weeks back I was convinced Fall was upon me and I decided to make macaroni and cheese to celebrate--not just any mac and cheese though, my favorite mac and cheese. The kind of mac and cheese that starts out with a dreamy bechamel sauce and ends up in a casserole dish full of cheesey-bubbly goodness topped with crunchy herbaceous breadcrumbs. There was just one problem…the recipe was for traditionally made mac and I was unconventionally vegan at the time. What’s a girl to do? Well…this girl decided to veganize the recipe.

It started out with a trip to Whole Foods which ended in a $45 tab (this is just an estimate because all of my “I’m just running in for a couple things” ventures into Whole Foods seem to cost upwards of $45). I cleaned out the vegan dairy department taking with me: 2 types of block cheese, plain unsweetened soymilk, plain soy cream, tofutti sour cream, and Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, not missing a pass at the bakery for some artisan pasta and fresh bread crumbs. On second thought it was probably more than $45 dollars… So, ingredients in tow I set off for my kitchen and prepared to build the ultimate vegan mac.

I started with the b├ęchamel sauce…cooking the flour with the margarine, whisking in the milk until it was all incorporated and creamy. Then I added the "cheese", which by the way had to be grated. By hand. On a box grater. [ I’m not sure how many of you have actually attempted to grate vegan cheese on a box grater before, but the texture is all wrong for such an activity and requires a lot of patience (something I am not known for) and attention (another thing I’m not exactly known for). It took roughly a half hour, the grating I mean.] So in goes the cheese, a small amount at time, whisking furiously to incorporate it into the sauce. Vegan cheese is not known for its melting qualities and attempting to do so is on par with trying to dissolve honey in a glass of ice water, but somehow I managed to coax a block of vegan cheddar and a block of vegan jack cheese into the hot molten lava that was below me. It was very much an intenstive labor of love and desperation. You see up until that point every vegan mac I had had, tasted as such—blatantly vegan, barely passable for cheese, not at all creamy and luxurious, reeking of nutritional yeast and carrying the unpleasant fluorescent yellow hue of turmeric added too hastily and in too large a quantity. I was at the end of my rope.

Back the story..after I convinced the cheese to make friends with lava, I added a little Tofutti sour cream (for body and sharpness) along with some seasonings---a little salt, a dash of mustard powder, and fresh cracked black pepper. After about 30 minutes of vigorous sauce making, a few second-degree wrist burns from over-zealous lava bubbles, and stirring so much I could skip my upper body work-out and not feel guily, I tasted. It was surprisingly good. "Wow, this is good!" I exclaimed with glee even though I was alone in the kitchen and the only one there to possibly hear me was a basil plant I forget to water on a regular basis, which I'm sure ignored me, as I do it, just out of spite. At any rate I had created the near impossible and improbably--a cheese sauce completely passable for the real thing. Thick, creamy, sharp and no trace of nutritional yeast or the strange yellow cast of tumeric. It was just the white cheese sauce I was after. Success! Sweet success! I was so excited. So excited in fact, that I dumped the whole pot of sauce into the pasta pot which I had set to boil at the midpoint in my sauce making—before draining the pasta. Before. Draining. The. Pasta!

When I do it. I really do it big. Well over thirty painstaking minutes erecting the perfect vegan cheese sauce to destroy it with a pasta pot full of water! And it was perfect. It could probably do on its own as a fondue with some bread. It was that good, and that’s saying a lot coming from me because I don’t take cheese lightly. I normally just forgo the vegan cheese altogether because of the ultimate disappointment and insult it poses to real cheese. Nevertheless I carried on with the recipe, hoping all was not lost. I piled it into the casserole dish I had rubbed with garlic and margarine, topped it the entire mess with the fresh artisanly-made breadcrumbs, dotting the top with some leftover Maitre d’hotel butter I had from an earlier meal and set it in the oven to bake, wishing and hoping it would recompose itself as the dish it was meant to be. Long story long, it did not. We ate it anyway because at that point I had invested well over $50 dollars into the project and I’d say a good hour and half of time, energy and effort and I was damned if it was going in the garbage. Truth be told, the end result wasn’t half bad and was still edible for the most part. It just wasn’t the glorious masterpiece I had composed or envisioned. So the recipe for the intended end product follows. My vegan readers will be pleased I think…three days into my conversion and given the opportunity to post a mac and cheese recipe, it ends up being a tasty vegan one :-) All hope isn’t lost on me yet! Lol

A word of caution though: don’t get so excited with the sauce that you dump it right into the pasta water. It’s heartbreaking, still edible, but heartbreaking. :-)

Vegan Mac and Cheese:

kosher salt and olive oil for pasta water
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1lb elbow macaroni
1 quart plain unsweetened soymilk
8 tablespoons vegan margarine, such as Earth Balance Buttery Sticks
1/2 cup flour
1 block vegan cheddar style cheese, grated
1 block vegan Monterey Jack style cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/2 cup soy sour cream, such as Tofutti Better than Sour Cream
a few cloves of garlic, cut in half
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs
3 tbsp. Maitre d'hotel butter (see recipe index), melted

Preheat oven to 375F . Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for macaroni. Add macaroni and a small amount of olive oil and proceed to cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain well, do not rinse.
Meanwhile, heat the soymilk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; do not allow it to boil. Melt 6 tablespoons of vegan margarine in another large saucepan. Add the flour to the melted margarine and whisk to incorporate. Whisk warm milk into flour-margarine mixture and cook for about 5 minutes, whisking continuously, until thickened and smooth. Reduce heat to very low and whisk cheeses in a small amount at a time, making sure each addition is completely incorporated before adding the next. Season with 2 tablespoons of salt (or to taste), pepper, nutmeg and mustard powder, whisking to completely incorporate. Fold in sour cream. Add drained macaroni and stir well. Rub a 3-quart casserole dish with cut garlic and remaining 2 tablespoons margarine. Pour macaroni in casserole dish. Combine melted Maitre d'hotel butter with breadcrumbs, and sprinkle them evenly over the top. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the crumbs are browned.

Serves about 8.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Easiest Pear Tart in the World (v)

Want a homemade dessert with very little effort?  Well, if you've got a pear or two, a box of puff pastry, some brown sugar, and a little salt laying around... your wish is granted.  This has to be the easiest recipe around, but it doesn't compromise on flavor.  Flaky, buttery layers of puff pastry, soft oven-roasted pears, and an ever so slightly salted caramel-y brown sugar topping will leave you fully satisfied, and with enough energy to run it off once your done, if you're into that kind of thing.  I prefer a side of vanilla ice cream these days, but if I've said it once I've said it a thousand times, do what suits you.  These tarts are also great the next morning as sort of an upscale pop-tart with some Cafe Americano, if you have a couple left over like me.

You will need:

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry dough, thawed to package directions
1 or 2 pears depending on size, peeled and sliced into 1/4'' thick slices (approximately)
2 to 3 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used fleur de sel, but use what you have)

Preheat your oven according to the puff pastry package directions.  To prepare puff pastry you will need to dock both sides (prick it with a fork without puncturing all the way through to the other side).  This will keep it from rising.  Cut the puff pastry into 6 equal sized rectangles.  Arrange pear slices going down the center of each rectangle, overlapping the slices.  In a small bowl combine the brown sugar and salt.  Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over each tart.  At this point, you may wish to dot each tart with a small amount of butter or vegan margarine, but it isn't entirely necessary, especially if your pears are sufficiently juicy.  I opted out of the butter the last time I made this and didn't notice any significant change in taste.  Bake the tarts on a baking sheet in the preheated oven until pastry is golden brown and pears are soft and bubbly, about 20 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Makes 6


Capellini #9 with Roasted Garlic, Cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Just a note before you start:  given that there are exactly 6 ingredients ingredients in this dish--counting salt and pepper,  you should seek out the very best of each ingredient.  You know the rule, the fewer the ingredients you use, the better the quality of the ingredients you should use.   I actually subscribe to the school of "always use quality ingredients" as your dishes will be that much better--sometimes though the effects of Bush economics don't allow us to do that.  Save this one for when budget allows for the very best.

You will need:

1 large head of garlic, roasted, peeled and mashed into a paste (a fork works well for this, although I admit, I used a meat mallet)
1/2 package dried capellini #9, or your favorite pasta, boiled and drained, do not rinse
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan heat the cream over low heat until very warm, but not bubbling.  Add the cheese and whisk until incorporated.  Once cheese is incorporated, add the mashed roasted garlic and whisk to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Toss with your favorite cooked pasta.  Sprinkle with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and enjoy.  

This should make enough for 4, unless you want to eat it all yourself, which is highly probable.  I continued to eat it well after I was comfortably full, because I didn't want to stop tasting it.  But you know, do what suits you.  :-)

The Ten Commandments, plus one

So, I've denounced my vegansim, which after posting that last blog, I realized is the dietary equivalent of Catholism. I can say that because I've been both vegan and Catholic. There are some definite parallels, at least in my view. Both seem to be based on guilt, judgement and deprivation at their worst, but have the ability to be beautifully artistic and inspiring, given the right congregation of followers. In any case, just as I have done with the spiritual religion of my past, picking and choosing what I like from all denominations to suit my own needs (which is probably blasphemy, but I figure it's better to believe in a little of everything, than nothing at all)...I have done with my dietary religion of the future. So here are my ten commandents for the velvet ant-ified version of veganism--which isn't really veganism at all, but it's more strict than vegetarianism. I guess it's the Baptist version of veganism? lol. My apologies in advance to any and all Baptists, it was just joke, most likely a bad joke for which I will recieve tons and tons of nasty angry comments...or maybe not, I don't know that many Baptist vegans come to think of it. And if I do, well...use this as solace...I don't subscribe to any one religion so I'm probably going to hell

The Ten Commandments:

1.) Thou shalt not purchase or produce any new item of clothing, shoes, or jewelry made from animal products (to include but not limited to wool, silk, pearls, fur, cashmere).
2.) Thou shalt only use vegan sugar. Bone-char filtered regular sugar is nasty.
3.) Thou shalt only by cruelty-free cosmetics and household cleaners.
4.) Thou shalt never consume animal flesh, with the exception shrimp to be consumed only in New Orleans proper. Preferably in the French Quarter only. This is to include, but is not limited to: chicken, pork, beef, lamb, shellfish, fish, and squid.
5.) Thou shalt only purchase organic, hormone-free dairy products, and use a soy option when it suits.
6.) Thou shalt only purchase organic, hormone-free, cage-free/free-range eggs and use another alternative when it suits.
7.) Thou shalt only purchase extremely high quality cheeses.
8.) Thou shalt only purchase micro-brewed beers to avoid isinglass.
9.) Thou shalt commit to eating at least 3 vegan meals a week.
10.) Thou shalt avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and any other unnatural ingredients at all costs.

And a bonus: Thou shalt revise this list whenever it becomes outdated or too limiting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Welcome Home

I've been doing some thinking lately. Examining my ideas. Remembering what makes me happy. Eliminating things that do not. Redefining my "label", in order to redefine my label (velvet ant). Refining myself if you will. There comes a point, I assume, in everyone's life when this has to happen, if not for the sake of growing your business, for the sake of growing in general...I suppose this is my time.

So on to the point...I decided in the throws of my re-emergence, re-inventation, re-alization if you will, that I do not particularly enjoy being a vegan...sure it has valid points, dairy is no good for you and it supports the hamburger industry, chickens are held up in pens and who wants to eat the ovarian discards of an animal that eats its own poop? Well...since you asked, I do. I also have an addiction to high quality cheese, real butter, and heavy cream. I'm of French-Italian descent, and I hail from a city known for its food--New Orleans--for crying out loud. I am hard-wired to lust after velvety cream sauces and pungent cheeses and breathe in the caramel-y scent of real butter browning in cast-iron pan as if it were Chanel No. 5, and wonder (seriously) if I could dab it on my wrists and neck and wear it as such. I gave veganism a whole-hearted effort...I tried all the soy cheeses on the market. I switched to coconut milk ice cream (it's the creamiest non-dairy substitute on the market). I've even gotten use to the taste of soy margarine, tofutti sour cream and cream cheese, and Veganaise. It all has its place in the diet I suppose. None of it, with the exception of some of the lesser quality vegan cheeses, are completely disgusting, and I think I might actually prefer the coconut milk ice cream to the original cow milk version...I think. But as much as I would love to sit here and try to convince you otherwise, as I have tried to to convince myself for the past year, you cannot truly replicate the taste of authentic dairy products. I think it is better to say after a year you will forget what real dairy tastes like and be able to fool yourself that you have the real thing. Truth be told-under no circumstances will vegan margarine produce an aroma with which you wish (say that 3 times fast!) to use as perfume, and the moment that original scent hits your sensory glands, you will instantly remember the original sin, at least that's my story. I am sure there are folks out there more committed to the cause than I, and that is fine, actually it's's just not right for me, at least not in my everyday diet. When a choice you make or made begins to feel like a self-induced punishment, it's time to take action to relieve yourself of the burden. I haven't yet dove into a pint of Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Chunk to officially baptize myself as a full-fledged run-of-the-mill vegetarian and futher denounce my old vegan religion, but I think the meal that follows puts me on the cusp.

My affinity for dairy products mainly lies within the savory realm... most recently in the form of Capellini #9 with Roasted Garlic and Cream, adorned with freshly shaven Parm. The next time I do this, the capellini will most likely be replaced with Linguine Fini (a very thin, artisinal version of linguine) because well, I don't really enjoy capellini, or angel hair, or angel nests--or whatever you choose to call it. The roasted garlic cream sauce, however, that's the keeper. It's creamy and comforting with little bits of toasty sweet garlic and a hint of sharpness and salt from the Parm--the perfect balance of all things delicious, and perhaps one of the simplest sauces you can make aside from literally tossing the pasta in some olive oil and adding some crushed red pepper flakes (which is also tasty and vegan by the way). It literally takes 3 ingredients, give or take some salt and pepper, and less time to prepare than the pasta will to boil! Basically, you heat the cream over low heat, add the cheese, whisk until its melted and combined, then stir in the roasted garlic, which you've mashed beyond all recognition into a thick paste, season with salt and pepper and your sauce is done. At this point you can either spoon the sauce over or toss with your pasta, sprinkle the whole thing with some extra shavings of cheese and Finito! Dinner is served. I had this the night of my reawakening with a simple oak leaf salad dressed with my "house" vinaigrette and the easiest Pear Tart you will ever see. Call it my "welcome home" meal.

So with all that said, you're probably wondering what that means for you and this blog. Well, I can't imagine eating heavy cream, butter, and cheese everyday and maintaining any resemblance to a girlish figure, what with me in my thirties (!) now and being perched on top of the hill looking down the barrel of middle age, nor can I imagine having the energy to do all of the things on my "bucket list" should I gorge myself on such things, so for the most part, my new found freedom should have little to no effect on you. I will mark the vegan recipes with a (v), and if I use offensive ingredients I'll give you a vegan alternative, if one is available. For the most part, life around here will be more or less the same.

There will be no vegan alternatives for the pasta dish, out of respect for my new religion--freedom of choice and happiness. Viva la dairy! :) The Pear Tart, incindentally, is vegan...just out of habit, assuming you get a vegan puff pastry dough--Pepperidge Farm (to my knowledge at the moment) is vegan compliant and tasty. It's also the one I used for testing purposes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Foodie Find of the Week: Donna Hay Magazine

This may not be new. It may very well have been around for awhile. In fact it has, but I live in the South and well, you know how things are down here, slow and low, so I just discovered it. I'm instantly in love. Instantly. In. Love. The photography is gorgeous. The recipes are simple, but not basic. It's printed in Australia, written by cookbook author Donna Hay--hence the name. It's sort of like Martha Stewart--if Martha were chic, not cloyingly cutesy and utterly pretentious. It's the magazine I would write if I were to actually to do such a thing. Which is a thought in itself. In any case, go get a copy, if you don't already have it, and enjoy :-)


Monday, November 3, 2008

Indian Summer

It's November and, just as predicted, the current temperature is 80 degrees. It's predicted to be in the lower 80's through Thursday. I guess we weren't ready, and by "we" I mean the South, not me. I'm so ready, at least in theory. Truth be told, I haven't yet equipped myself with Fall attire, and don't see that project coming to a close in the foreseeable future. I am still searching for the perfect winter coat sans wool. I still have my summer clothes hanging in the closet. Hell, yesterday I wore shorts and sandals. I am in no way, shape, form or fashion prepared for the new weather. You'd think with as much as I have been complaining about the heat and wishing for Fall to arrive, I'd have all my ducks in a row. My ducks are still swimming in the pool, drinking lemonade, making one final attempt at a tan. And so it is with that I will leave you with this: my recipe for a Fiesta Bean Salad. It's a combination of hearty beans, sweet corn kernels, crispy bell peppers and onions tossed in a zesty dressing. You can eat it cold, as I have--right out of the bowl, standing in front of the refrigerator, at room temperature--perfect for a picnic, or rather still with tortilla chips as a bean salsa of sorts. It's versatile, filling, and requires no cooking--perfect for those days in November when you are too discouraged to cook and are completely certain the rest of the country is experiencing genuine Autumn weather, dressing in scarves and sweaters, watching leaves change color, and eating hearty, homey soups.

Fiesta Bean Salad:

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained well
1 can black eye peas, rinsed and drained well
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 orange bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 small jalepeno pper, seeded and minced
1 small bottle prepared Italian salad dressing
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 green onions, sliced thin, green part only

Combine all ingredients except green onions together in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to blend flavors. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with green onion.

This can be used for a stand-alone bean salad, part of a composed tex-mex chef or cobb salad, as a sandwich filling, as an appetizer served with tortilla chips. You could also toss it with some cooked rice, a little shredded cheese and heat it up for an instant meal. Use it stuff burritos, tacos, or tamales. Add it to your scrambled eggs or tofu in the morning Add some tomato jucie or vegetable stock and turn it into a soup, topped with a little avocado and sour cream. The possibilities are practically endless, which is good because this makes alot. ALOT.