vegan fiesta!!!

  
So yesterday I shared with you the story of the Sanibel Sprout and the delicious meal I had prepared by the chef & owner, Nikki. She told me that she is a firm believer in seasoning. I agreed with her wholeheartedly, I’ve always said I feel that anything can taste good as long as it is prepared and seasoned well. 

(Some people prefer a little too much seasoning, and salt my food right in front of me…eye roll…no comment…)

Nikki’s taco salad with walnut “taco meat” was so very flavorful that when you took a bite you tasted cumin, chili powder, and sea salt, not walnuts. It actually tasted like ground taco meat. But lighter and more heart healthy. But the cashew “queso” topping? That really blew my mind, I had no clue how it even existed and I decided I had to try making it for myself. I did a little research and experimenting and came up with my own concoctions for both. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures as I went along, sorry, but trust me it’s really easy. But there are pictures of the finished product! 

First, the taco meat.

Ingredients

  • 2 C whole walnuts (if you only have chopped on hand that’s OK just don’t pulse them as much in the food processor so that they don’t get too fine…like Brad Pitt)
  • 3 teaspoons chili powder (all spices are to taste; you may want a little more or a little less…as I tasted I felt it couldn’t get enough cumin so I kept adding until the flavor was just right)
  • 4 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tb olive oil (I omitted this when making it for friends who are not eating any kind of oils, I just put a little water in instead, but I do think the oil is helpful in binding the mixture together and enhancing the flavor.)

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until it’s the consistency of ground meat.

Taste test, and add more spices if you’d like.

This is totally optional but I think totally a must to a) feel like you’re eating taco mea and b) completely fool your butcher husband…Heat mixture in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Your house will smell like you’re having a fiesta!  

  
 
I love a colorful salad so I out all sorts of toppings out; black olives, red & yellow bell peppers, fresh diced tomatoes, shoestring carrots, seasoned kidney beans, sunflower seeds, organic blue corn tortilla chips, and, my personal favorite, big hunks of avocado!But the real star of the dish and the perfect finishing touch? The cashew queso! Which, by the way, also doubles as a dressing for the salad which was especially nice for our non oil eating amigos. I’m really getting into this fiesta thing now! 

Ingredients 

  • 1 cup cashews, soaked for at least 3 hours, drained, and rinsed.
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast…(I had to go to the health food store to find this…it smells awful and I don’t know why it was necessary but it just was. Note to self: do more research on nutritional yeast and follow up with blog post about said ingredient) 
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Instructions

Blend all of the ingredients together in a blender until smooth and queso like. Make sure to scrape down the sides and that it’s really blended all the way through, you don’t want any little cashew chunks.  This makes about 2 cups and the queso sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

 You could just spoon the sauce over your salad but where’s  the fun in that?! Or….you could put sauce into a ziplock bag, snip the tip, and artfully pipe over your salad for a beautiful finish to the meal. There was plenty of queso left over too, so we took some of those beautiful organic blue corn tortilla chips and dipped them right in there. Take that nacho cheese!  

The butcher and I aren’t quite ready to go completely meatless or dairy free yet, but we are definitely cutting back and making better choices. This dish is so delicious it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice! Taco salad for all!

   

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so corny 

  “Um…can I have a little more corn salsa please?” That’s me every time we go to Chipotle. I’m a sucker for a good sweet/savory combo and their corn salsa takes the cake. The crunchy sweetness of the corn mixed with a spicy jalapeño and lime flavor is just divine. But alas, the nearest Chipotle is a 40 minute drive, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own. What says summertime more than fresh delicious salsa?! It’s pretty yummy if I do say so myself. Here’s the recipe;

Large package of frozen corn, thawed
1 jalapeño, finely diced

about 1/2 C. red onion, finely diced

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

juice of one lime (roll it on the counter first, this helps release the juices)

a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 tsp kosher salt (taste it, you may need more)

a lil’ black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Allow to sit in the fridge until ready to use. Doesn’t get much easier than that! This would also be great on top of grilled chicken! 

Me Gusto Carnitas

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Carnitas, literally “little meats,” is a dish of Mexican cuisine. Carnitas are made by braising or simmering pork meat in liquid until tender. The process takes several hours (of which you can be in the pool if you want, all hail the crock pot!) and the result is very tender and juicy pork meat, which is then typically served with cilantro, diced onion, salsa (and corn salsa in my case), guacamole, tortillas, and beans. And that, my friends, is exactly what we did. If you haven’t had carnitas, you are missing out. But you don’t have to go to a restaurant to get it, the recipe is actually quite simple and your friends and family will love you forever. I mean they already should love you unconditionally, but incase you’re on the outs with some of them, this will definitely help.😉

Beauty & The Butcher Carnitas

2 1/2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder (or a Boston Butt as the butcher calls it)
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together (you can use twine but I love using reusable silicone rubberbands you can find them at any kitchen supply)
2 bay leaves
12 oz. bottle Mexican beer
1/4 C. orange juice
2 – 3 T. chipotle peppers in adobo (these are in a can in your Latin foods aisle, remove them from can and purée in blender, freeze what you don’t use and be careful, these things will knock your socks off!)
generous amounts of kosher salt & fresh black pepper

Put everything into your crock pot. Cover and set it to cook for 6 hours. After the first few hours you can stir everything around a bit if you’d like, but it’s not totally necessary.

After six hours (or when the pork reaches 190 degrees with a meat thermometer) remove the tenderloin pieces onto a cutting board. They will be so tender, they’ll be falling apart you can shred them with a fork. Remove and throw away the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Shred the pork and return to the slow cooker with its sauce. Keep it on the warm setting until ready to use. You can also easily double this recipe in fact, I recently double quadrupled it to feed 60 people and it was still easy and delicious!

Chipotle Corn Salsa Yumminess

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“Um…can I have a little more corn salsa please?” That’s me every time we go to Chipotle. I’m a sucker for a good sweet/savory combo and their corn salsa takes the cake. The crunchy sweetness of the corn mixed with a spicy jalapeño and lime flavor is just divine. But alas, the nearest Chipotle is a 40 minute drive, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own and the cookout we’re having today with our “bestest” friends on our new patio was the perfect excuse. Not too shabby if I do say so myself. Here’s the recipe;

Large package of frozen corn, thawed
1 jalapeño, finely diced
about 1/2 C. red onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
juice of one lime (roll it on the counter first, this helps release the juices)
a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt (taste it, you may need more)
a lil’ black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Allow to sit in the fridge until ready to use. Doesn’t get much easier than that!