Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rachel’s Quick Chili

In winter, I love to eat chili. I used to eat it from a can (dressed up, of course) until I tried a Mexican spiced bean recipe that was so tasty, I decided to add meat to it and call it chili. Unfortunately, I have since lost that cookbook with that recipe, so the last time I was craving some chili, I winged it. And my winging actually turned out pretty tasty. Add some Greek yogurt for some tang, avocado for some creaminess and some habanero cheddar for some heat and you have yourself one tasty, filling meal.

Rachel’s Quick Chili
Serves 6
1 lb ground beef (or pork)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tsp chili powder blend
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (more or less depending on how spicy you want yours)
Chicken stock
1. In a large pot, cook ground beef over medium heat until browned. Remove, then add 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook onions and garlic until almost translucent, about 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and continue to cook until onions are soft.
2. Add rest of ingredients along with enough chicken stock to just barely cover all ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until bell peppers are soft. Serve with your favorite chili toppings.
*The chili tends to taste better if you let it chill in the fridge overnight and then reheat it. The flavors intensify for a more chili-like taste. But, it still tastes fantastic when you first cook it.


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier

A few weekends ago I went snowshoeing with my meetup group up at Mt. Rainier. My co-worker Mark offered to take me and a few gals up and show us the ropes. I took him up on his offer and we had a blast!

We drove up to Ashford and stopped at Whittaker's to pick up snowshoes, then quickly headed up to the park.  When we got to Longmire, there was no snow on the ground, so our hopes for good snow where not too high. We headed up to Paradise where there was a ton of snow and it was coming down like crazy! We got suited up and headed out on the trail towards Narada Falls.

You can't tell in the pictures, but it was windy! There were gusts so strong I felt I was going to get blown over! But it was still a lot of fun.

We got close to Narada Falls, but decided to turn back because the weather was quickly turning south. We hurried back to the cars, which were frozen solid. We quickly scrambled in the cars and attempted to get them defrosted and then hurried down the hill to get out of the insane weather. The snow was coming down faster than we could scoop it off the car and the windshield wipers kept freezing.

But we made it down to Longmire, where we found a ton of snow had fallen in about 4 hours. Literally, that much snow had fallen in 4 hours! Can you believe it?!

Mark and I brought some apple cider mix for the gals, and we toured the gift shop where I bought a beautfiul vase I had seen the last time I was up there and had regretted not buying.

We headed back down to Ashford to return the snowshoes, then promptly headed back to Puyallup, where it was snowing as well! There was a guy attempting donuts in the parking lot and a ton of people having problems getting through the snow, but it was still awesome!

Mark, thank you so much for taking us gals up snowshoeing! I cannot wait to go again!


Monday, January 23, 2012

Chemicals are NOT Bad

I'm rather irked today. It takes quite a bit for me to get irked, but I found something today that did the trick.

The new frenzy over the "flavor packs" in orange juice not being listed on the container has gotten my panties in a bunch. Normally, this would not bother me too much because I would figure it's just another trick from the media to get people all riled up. But this time they have gone too far.

They have given the word "chemicals" a bad name.

Now, let me ask this. Of all these journalists writing these stories about chemicals, how many of them actually took more than a few quarters or semesters in chemistry? My guess, none. So they don't exactly have the knowledge to write confidently about chemicals, in my book at least.

However, I do. I have a bachelors in chemistry and I have been working as a chemist for a year and a half now.

I can tell you that not all chemicals are bad. 

The media has created this firestorm over chemicals being in our food, in our clothes, in everything we touch and smell. It's actually the truth.

But what they don't tell you is that a lot of the chemicals they are having you worry about are in fact harmless. Take the "flavor packs," for example. If you read the articles correctly, hidden deep in there is a sentence that says the flavor packs are made from the peels of oranges, boiled in water, then concentrated down to form a "flavor pack" that tastes like real oranges. No other chemicals are added, just simply orange peels and water, which if I may add, is already in the ingredient list.

So what about all the other chemicals you hear about? Lead? Yes, it's bad. Chromium VI, yes. Citric acid? Nope! It used to be derived from citrus fruits (hence the name, citric acid), but some chemist in a lab found a way to derive it from mold. Yes, you read that right, mold.

But don't be grossed out! And definitely do not add citric acid as to your "do not buy any food with this ingredient" list. Once the citric acid has been formed, it is perfectly harmless. It is exactly like any citric acid you would ingest if you ate an orange. Nothing is different, other than the source from which it came from.

The only thing you would need to worry about is if you had a whole container of citric acid and sprinkled the whole thing over your food. Basically, for chemicals that are indeed harmless, all you need to worry about is the dosage. Usually, the high limit for chemicals that are found in your food, clothes, etc. are below any limit that will make you sick or kill you. This is also true for a good portion of hazardous chemicals. A normal person's interaction with most hazardous chemicals will be way below the limit where it will become a problem.

Unless you work in an environment like I do where I am a chemist and it's my job to work with chemicals, you should not worry about the chemicals you come in contact with. Please, I'm asking you, do not let the media throw you into a frenzy before digging out what is really true.

Thank you for reading my rant about chemicals.


P.S. If you have any questions about any other chemicals you have heard about, feel free to ask me and I will gladly look in to them for you.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Difficult Years

Do any of you also have those years that just seem more difficult than the rest? Do they ever happen in cycles? Mine seem to. Granted, every year has its ups and downs, just some seem to be more rollercoaster like than others.

My cycle seems to be every 3 years (although this year I think I'm making up for last year being a lot easier). So far the more difficult years have been 2000, 2004, 2007, and 2010. (and by years, I mean school years. Once summer hits, everything seems to get a little easier, does it not? And does anyone else still think in school years, even long since they themselves have graduated?)

But now 2011-2012 school year is looking to be a more difficult year. Already, it's been filled with childhood pets passing away, breaking up with my fiancee and canceling a wedding, and dealing with my grandparents ill health. It's been tough, nonetheless, but I've made it through and I still feel really happy. I'm just hoping that I will have the strength to keep my chin up through the rest of this year and not let things bring me down.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Yellow Split Pea Soup

The first time I heard of Split Pea Soup, I saw a packaged mix sitting in my grandparents cupboard. The picture on the front had this absolutely disgusting army green colored soup, but everyone I talked to swore it was delicious. When I finally decided to give it a try, I was hesitant, but they were right. It was delicious! I just had a really hard time getting over the color.

Enter in yellow split peas. They give the soup a nice pretty orange yellow tint (almost like butternut squash soup) and to me, they taste a bit sweeter. I am now a huge fan of split pea soup, as long as its yellow, and not green.

Yellow Split Pea Soup
Serves 8

2 slices bacon, diced
1 ham hock, or leftover bone from a cooked ham
3 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 leek, sliced light green and white parts only
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 c. yellow split peas
6 c. chicken stock
Croutons, for serving

1. Heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Brown bacon pieces until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate with a paper towel and set aside.
2. Add olive oil, carrot, celery, leek and garlic. Cook over medium heat with the lid slightly on for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent. Add ham hock, split peas, potatoes and stock. Bring to a boil, then let simmer over medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes until peas are soft.
3. Remove ham hock to cool. Strain through a sieve, reserving liquid. Puree mash and return to stock pot with liquid. 
4. Chop ham off hock and add to soup, along with the bacon pieces. Reheat over low. Serve with croutons on top.



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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Schinkenfleckerl (aka Ham and Noodle Casserole)

Can you say schinkenfleckerl ten times fast? I can't, but I definitely could go for seconds on this dish. My mom used to make a simpler variation of it when I was growing up, and I finally found the recipe for it so I could recreate on of my favorite dishes. This version is definitely hearty. It's full of eggy-creamy-hamy-noodley goodness that is perfect for dinner after hitting the ski slopes.

Schinkenfleckerl (aka Ham and Noodle Casserole)
Serves 4

1/2 bag broad egg noodles
4 thick slices of ham, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 egg, seperated
1/2 container creme fraiche
2.5 oz smoked cheddar, grated
2.5 oz parmesan, grated

1. Cook noodles as directed on package. Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Whisk together egg yolk and creme fraiche. Beat egg whites until soft peak stage (where if you lift the beater out of the bowl, peaks form, but the tips fall over on itself). Fold egg whites into creme fraiche mixture, then fold in cheese, ham and noodles. Pour into a buttered baking dish.
3. Bake for 20-30 until cheese sauce is bubbly and noodles are slightly browned on edges.

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