The Chili Pepper Apron
Confessions of TCPA: I’m not a Vegetarian.. nor do I play one on T.V.

This question has come up in my day-to-day life as well as through the interwebs: Are you a vegetarian? Why not? and if you’re not, why don’t you eat more meat??

Despite the many vegetarian friendly recipes used and loved by The Chili Pepper Apron, I’m not actually a vegetarian. I just happen to enjoy a good vegetarian meal as much as any true vegetarian.  I also happen to enjoy a good steak as much as any true carnivore.  I’m stuck perfectly into the Om-nom-nomivore category of diets.  

So why the higher ratio of veggie meals to meaty meals? And for that matter, the almost non-existence of beef based meals?  It comes down primarily to Biology and Conservation.  I’m a conservation biologist by both practice and degree.  So I tend to view things from that mindset and with a scientific view point.

Biologically, eating veggies has a higher energy conversion rate than eating meat.  That’s why there are generally a lot of obligate herbivores (think wildebeest) but very few obligate carnivores (think lions).  It takes more wildebeest to feed lion than it does grass to feed wildebeest because the energy the plants obtain from the sun is lost as you go up the trophic levels.  

trophic - wikipedia   

(Shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia)

As you go up in trophic level, you lose ALL but about 10% of the energy of the previous level.  And even the plants don’t do a very good job of capturing the sun’s energy.. generally around 1% is actually captured and stored.

So if you think of it in human terms: SUN 100% -> Plant 1% -> Cow 0.10% -> Human 0.01%  Where as if you just ate the plant, you now get that full 1% all to yourself! …Okay, you actually don’t because part of that energy is used to break down the food itself.  Which is why things like celery are generally considered a “negative calorie” food.  It takes more energy to digest the stick than it gives you because it has a high cellulose/fiber content.  But you still end up with more direct energy than if you just ate the cow. You also get fewer calories because that fiber content takes up more of your stomach and takes more time to break down than that burger meat does.
 

So where’s the beef then? They’re an obligate herbivore!

If you read back through my posts, you’ll see I tend to lean toward fish (secondary consumers like salmon) or chicken (insectivore/herbivore).  This doesn’t seem to make as much sense compared to eating cattle if you base it entirely off the trophic levels talked about above.  That’s where my conservation mind comes in to play. 

Environmentally, eating cattle is less “green” than eating chicken.  That’s mostly due to the size difference.  Yes, a 400lb heifer is going to produce more waste than a 8lb chicken, but they also need more space!  Plus the beef culture has been driven to the moremoreMORE standing causing a destruction of many native species and habitats globally in order to create more grazing land for herds while at the same time moving towards unusual feeding practices of the cattle.  You generally never heard of a herd of cattle raiding the farmers corn field, more so they go after the green leafy stuff.  That’s because they are ruminants that are supposed to primarily eat tough-to-digest grasses, not easy-to-digest corn.  

You can also find humanely raised and environmentally friendly protein sources in the poultry/fish industry a lot easier than in the beef industry. Though the beef industry is starting to catch up!  Free-range chickens are relatively easy to find now at many major grocery stores and farmers markets.  Also, the backyard chicken movement (also called the Urban Chicken movement) is growing and growing fast!  On the fish front, organizations like MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), Blue Ocean, and Monterey Bay Aquarium have made it easy to figure out which fisheries are safe to harvest and eat without causing major harm to the environment or your family. 

And finally the reason I don’t do a lot of beef dishes.. beef makes my stomach hurt. :( 

So why do I even eat meat at all if I’m not going to eat a lot of it?  

Biology and personal choice.  Human dentition allows us to be omnivores.  The species as a whole would not have survived and developed the intellect we have without some animal protein in our diets.  But the key word here is: SOME. I do eat meat, but within reason.  The human body is not designed to process a piece of steak the size of your dinner plate.  Nor is it supposed to be able to eat a whole chicken every day.  Three ounces of meat or protein is the recommended amount for each meal.  That’s about the size of a deck of playing cards.  Or if you look at the palm of your hand, it’s the flat, meaty surface excluding the fingers, thumb, and wrist.  That’s it! By eating that amount, we can control our caloric intake and also our environmental impact.  Not to mention it leaves more room on the plate for those veggies.  

As for personal choice, that’s just it:  My choice and decision that I’ve made that I enjoy some meats well enough to not exclude all meats from my diet.  I have many friends that are vegetarians either by choice or necessity and while I do commend them and respect that choice, it’s not my choice and thank them for not being the type of vegetarian that tries to be pushy.  I also thank them for their excellent recipe collections and for being willing guinea pigs to try out my latest veggie friendly recipe! 

Where’s the Beef??  - Black Bean Burgers
First, the Recipe: 
http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/our-homemade-quick-black-bean-burger-10000001932647/
This is the general recipe that I use, but I do make some modifications to it. (Shocking, I’m sure.)
1.) I use bread or bread crumbs instead of sacrificing a bun.
2.) If I don’t have a lime to obtain a rind from, I use lime juice or vinegar.
3.) I use two whole eggs (or the equivilent with egg substitute) instead of one egg and one egg white.
Second, I have a couple of pointers on how to keep these things from becoming a mess:  It is a very wet mixture so make sure you drain the beans really well before adding them to the food processor.  If it’s still too wet to shape, add more bread crumbs or a few tablespoons of flour to help bind it.  Quick cooking oatmeal also works.  You can also toast the breadcrumbs to dry them out so they absorb more water from the beans and eggs.  While you’re prepping the burgers, preheat your pan.  Sadly, these are not easily grillable, they fall through the grates.  So preheat your pan to the point that you’re afraid it may start to melt. When you have all the patties ready and are ready to cook, add a little oil to the pan (carefully!) and swirl to coat.  Now quickly add your patties and get your spatula ready.  They will finish cooking on one side in about 1-2 minutes, flip to the other side and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining patties.
Toppings are up to you!  These are not Beefy flavored at all, so adding strong flavored toppings will overwhelm the patty.  If you’re just using it as a protein source, then go ahead with whatever floats your bun!  
Enjoy!

Where’s the Beef??  - Black Bean Burgers

First, the Recipe: 

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/our-homemade-quick-black-bean-burger-10000001932647/

This is the general recipe that I use, but I do make some modifications to it. (Shocking, I’m sure.)

1.) I use bread or bread crumbs instead of sacrificing a bun.

2.) If I don’t have a lime to obtain a rind from, I use lime juice or vinegar.

3.) I use two whole eggs (or the equivilent with egg substitute) instead of one egg and one egg white.

Second, I have a couple of pointers on how to keep these things from becoming a mess:  It is a very wet mixture so make sure you drain the beans really well before adding them to the food processor.  If it’s still too wet to shape, add more bread crumbs or a few tablespoons of flour to help bind it.  Quick cooking oatmeal also works.  You can also toast the breadcrumbs to dry them out so they absorb more water from the beans and eggs.  While you’re prepping the burgers, preheat your pan.  Sadly, these are not easily grillable, they fall through the grates.  So preheat your pan to the point that you’re afraid it may start to melt. When you have all the patties ready and are ready to cook, add a little oil to the pan (carefully!) and swirl to coat.  Now quickly add your patties and get your spatula ready.  They will finish cooking on one side in about 1-2 minutes, flip to the other side and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining patties.

Toppings are up to you!  These are not Beefy flavored at all, so adding strong flavored toppings will overwhelm the patty.  If you’re just using it as a protein source, then go ahead with whatever floats your bun!  

Enjoy!

Cucumber Salad
This is a quick and easy recipe that can be multiplied to prepare for a large group, or modified to feed only one.  It’s also a great way to use surplus veggies from the garden.  If you have any.
The basic ingredients are: cucumber, tomato, vinegar, dill, salt. (and possibly sugar)
Pretty much in that order.
Slice the cucumber thin, but not paper thin.  Slice or dice the tomato and combine the two together in a glass or plastic bowl.  Not metal!  Acids and metals don’t play well together!
Add in enough vinegar to coat the veggies.  I like cider or red wine vinegar, but nearly any vinegar will work.  Basalmic will add a definite flavor to the mix.  Sprinkle with coarse salt and dill.  If I had fresh I would use that, but dill plants hate Florida’s heat.  Or me.  Either way I can’t grow it so dried it is! If you’re not a big fan of tart/sour flavors or you just added too much vinegar, add a sprinkle of granulated sugar to taste.  
Mix everything together until the veggies are well coated. (I like to use a plastic bowl with a lid that I can just shake to mix everything.)  Place in the refrigerator and allow to chill at least 30 minutes before serving.  Mix one more time before serving to ensure the dressing is well distributed. 
Enjoy!

Cucumber Salad

This is a quick and easy recipe that can be multiplied to prepare for a large group, or modified to feed only one.  It’s also a great way to use surplus veggies from the garden.  If you have any.

The basic ingredients are: cucumber, tomato, vinegar, dill, salt. (and possibly sugar)

Pretty much in that order.

Slice the cucumber thin, but not paper thin.  Slice or dice the tomato and combine the two together in a glass or plastic bowl.  Not metal!  Acids and metals don’t play well together!

Add in enough vinegar to coat the veggies.  I like cider or red wine vinegar, but nearly any vinegar will work.  Basalmic will add a definite flavor to the mix.  Sprinkle with coarse salt and dill.  If I had fresh I would use that, but dill plants hate Florida’s heat.  Or me.  Either way I can’t grow it so dried it is! If you’re not a big fan of tart/sour flavors or you just added too much vinegar, add a sprinkle of granulated sugar to taste.  

Mix everything together until the veggies are well coated. (I like to use a plastic bowl with a lid that I can just shake to mix everything.)  Place in the refrigerator and allow to chill at least 30 minutes before serving.  Mix one more time before serving to ensure the dressing is well distributed. 

Enjoy!

The Chili Pepper Apron.. Goes to Camp

I swear I haven’t died yet.  Though the heat we’ve been having recently certainly has drawn that into question at times.

Nope, I’m not dead, I’m just at camp.  

This just happens to be my favorite part of my job.  As well as being the most exhausting and time consuming, which doesn’t leave me a lot of time for frivolous activities.. like Tumblr.  

I do have several posts that I’ll be working on today and queuing up for the near future, but even those will be sparse compared to the number of updates I could do. 

So in light of how little I have posted recently, here’s a photo of a very wiggly otter eating a shrimp:

otter

Attention: We Have Lost The Wild

If found, please return to the hearts and minds of the modern human race.  

Look outside for a moment if you will.  Chances are, somewhere among the buildings, lampposts, mailboxes, and vehicles, you’re going to see one or all of the following:  The sky, a cloud, the sun, a plant, an insect, and/or an animal.  This is known to most of us as the Outside.  

outside

(ex. The Outside)

Growing up, many of us probably heard this word used in many connotations; such as “You’re driving me crazy, go outside.”, “It’s raining outside.”, “Someone is outside waiting for you.”, and my favorite “I’m going outside!”. 

At one time, The Outside could be considered a very scary and very large place.  That was where the Wild things were.  The bears, the lions, the snakes, the witches, the monsters, any and all creatures that our imagination could create that would both terrify and intrigue the most primitive parts of our brain.  During this time, the Outside was also in direct connection with The Wild.

But somewhere, at sometime, something odd began to happen.  We became more familiar with those creatures and creeps that lived in the Wild.  They stopped being scary, and eventually just became the Outside.  No more wild things to terrify us, though we occasionally still want to create this idea that the Outside is scary by placing the frightening characteristics on each other rather than on, say, a bear.  

It became silly to be afraid of some vague idea known as The Wild.  I mean, come on, when was the last time you heard of someone being attacked by a bear, or turned into a toad by a witch?!  Obviously the Outside was still scary, but it was scary because of the people that lived there now, not the animals.  Outside became the cool kid at school and no longer associated with its old pal The Wild.  

So far this doesn’t sound so bad, right?  No reason to fear the Outside nor those cute little woodland creatures that call it home!  Now one can venture out of their house (wearing bug spray, long pants, hiking boots, a sun hat, SPF 70+, a 1 liter bottle of water, a cell phone, and a flashlight.. just in case) and have a cute little squirrel come running right up to them to beg for food!  Or they can canoe down a water way and play with the adorable otters, fish, and alligators that live along the  banks! 

…Wait a minute here.. play with the alligator?  Unfortunately, yes.  This is were losing the Wild has become a problem.  We no longer fear that which we should.  Alligators? Why, I touched one of those at the zoo!  I swam with dolphins while on vacation!  I bet you can even find a place where you can pet a tiger and maybe give it a morsel of meat!  What’s so scary about those “wild” animals?  I see them all the time.. at the zoo, at the rescue park, at the hotel.  

But what many have forgotten is that those animals are trained to work with people.  What you don’t see is the keeper behind the scenes making sure that animal is interested in going out to visit people.  These animals are no longer Wild.  Nor are they domesticated (by any stretch of the imagination).  They are comfortable with the idea that a human is going to provide them with food, and so long as that human that they feel most comfortable with is near them, they’ll let a strange person come over and touch them, feed them, or ride on them.  

That alligator is the river is not.  That dolphin with her calf doesn’t know you.  That tiger, that bear, that lion does not see you bringing it food.. they see that you are food.  

you're food

(This picture’s not nearly as cute without the glass there.)

Losing the wild is a terrible thing.  Not only does it mean we’ve lost that fear which has helped our species to survive for so long, but we’ve lost the magic that made the Wild an exciting and wonderful place to be.  

So how do we find it? Is it lost forever?  No.. I don’t think so.  It’s there still.  You can find it everyday.  You find that fear and wonder whenever you see a spider in your bathtub.  That thrill of danger when a snake slithers across your path.  And that moment of magic when you finally spot that bear, that deer, that.. was that a troll? over there just beyond the trees. 

The Wild is still outside and it’s still waiting for us to make it cool again.  When we venture out into the forest with only our tent and our sleeping bag, our flashlight and camp fire, and our ghost stories and s’mores, that is when we find the Wild, right where we left it: Outside under the stars, in the trees, hiding in the shadows.  And we welcome that thrill that tells us we are not in charge out here, but rather, we are the followers to see what happens next.  

Falafel? Don’t feel so bad!

Hello. 

My name is The Chili Pepper Apron..

and..

I’m addicted.. to.. to.. oh, this is so embarrassing.

I’m addicted to chickpeas!

.

.

.

I know there are more dangerous things out there to be addicted to, but recently I’ve been hooked on hummus and falafel.  

The funny thing about the falafel is that I never had it before until about a week ago!   I knew about it, I had heard about it, but it had never passed my lips.

Then I went to this wonderful little Greek restaurant in downtown Orlando called Mediterranean Blue.  If you’re ever in Orlando, you should try it.  It’s on the corner of Michigan and Osceola in Downtown Orlando.  You will not be disappointed.  

Anyways, we decided to call-in our order since we had our pets in the car on the way back from a vet visit and I decided to try something new and went with the falafel sandwich with traditional tahini sauce.  

So. Good.  I wished I could eat it everyday!  But it’s a bit of a drive for us to get to that restaurant, so pine as I might, I could not justify driving out there for lunch (or dinner for that matter.)

Then I realized something.. a little flicker of thought.. I’m THE Chili Pepper Apron!  Why can’t I just make my own falafel?!  BRILLIANT! and Dangerous… oh so dangerous..

A quick search online came back with countless falafel recipes.  I decided on this one but with some modifications to compensate for what I lacked and to make it a little healthier.  

So I started with: 

ingredients

The chickpeas I jarred a few weeks ago, a half an onion (smaller), 4 cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of baking powder, a cup of baby spinach, a half teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, a teaspoon of salt, and 6-8 teaspoons flour.  

The substitutions: spinach - I lacked parsley and I don’t like cilantro.  The flour - I used precooked beans so they had more water in them and there for needed more flour.

First, combine the chickpeas and the onion:

chickpeas and onion

and then add in the cumin, garlic, spinach, pepper flakes, and salt. 

stuff

Pulse to blend but not yet puree.

blended

Now sprinkle in the baking powder and flour until a soft dough forms and doesn’t stick easily to your hands.

pureed

Pour this into a plastic bowl and cover.  Refrigerate for several hours.  I left mine overnight and then some.  This step is very important because the flavors are very strong otherwise.  Letting it sit will help it to mellow some. 

The next day I made these into little patties using about a tablespoon of mixture at a time.  This is a bit non-traditional, because I wasn’t planning on deep frying them.

patties

I also coated these with wheat germ because the dough was still rather sticky.

cooking

These went into a cast iron skillet heated over just-below-medium heat.  Low and Slow is the way to Go.  (Ha ha!)  If you heat these too fast they will burn on the outside and be gooey in the middle, so cook them about 3-5 minutes per side. 

done!

This recipe made about 20 tablespoon measured patties.. some of which have already gone into a sandwich for dinner and others have gone into my belly.  

These are really good.  I imagine that with parsley they would taste more authentic, but you’re not going to really be crying over the lack of it unless your Greek grandmother made it that way and I’ve completely destroyed your childhood.  If I have.. well.. you can send me her recipe! and I’ll make a load of them that way and promptly nom them into my tummy! Bwa ha ha ha ha!!

Enjoy!

YAGU: Yet Another Garden Update
Things are moving along quicker now with the garden.  A majority of the seedlings have been transplanted into larger cups so they can get a bit bigger and stronger before facing the outdoors on their own.  
Note to self:  Start planting seeds in January.  I waited way too late in the year to start planting the seeds since I was sowing them indoors first, but I just followed the directions on the packet.  The lesson here:  Directions are for losers! (or something.)

The garden is pretty lush right now too.  The mysterious cantaloupe? vine is the biggest thing out there but the pumpkin is giving it a run for its money sunlight and the cucumbers are now starting to vine!  

The peanuts are also looking good with a few blossoms on them, though I think I may try peanuts again in the fall and go for a whole garden of them to help with the nitrogen levels in the soil.  

YAGU: Yet Another Garden Update

Things are moving along quicker now with the garden.  A majority of the seedlings have been transplanted into larger cups so they can get a bit bigger and stronger before facing the outdoors on their own.  

Note to self:  Start planting seeds in January.  I waited way too late in the year to start planting the seeds since I was sowing them indoors first, but I just followed the directions on the packet.  The lesson here:  Directions are for losers! (or something.)

garden

The garden is pretty lush right now too.  The mysterious cantaloupe? vine is the biggest thing out there but the pumpkin is giving it a run for its money sunlight and the cucumbers are now starting to vine!  

peanuts

The peanuts are also looking good with a few blossoms on them, though I think I may try peanuts again in the fall and go for a whole garden of them to help with the nitrogen levels in the soil.  

Arepas - Spanish for “pan fried corn cakes that take freaking forever!”

In reality, I don’t know what exactly Arepas means in Spanish, but that definition makes sense to me because unless you have a couple hours to stand by the stove and cook them, they’re really not worth it.  

I saw this recipe on Pinterest and decided that it looked really tasty, so why not give it a try?! It’s only a few ingredients, readily available at the grocery store, let’s give it a shot!  

So I did.  

I can’t say I didn’t like it, but I can’t honestly say I did considering the amount of time that they took to make.

If you’re interested in trying this recipe on your own, here’s what you’re going to need:

arepas ingredients 

Water, oil, masarepa flour (available in the Latin foods section of big grocery stores and probably your local ethnic store), and salt.

Following the recipe, you mix these all together with your hands, kneading the dough until it stops sticking to your hands.

stop sticking to me!

Eventually it does stop sticking and looks something like this:

no more sticky

I will admit that part of the reason this recipe took me so long is because I doubled the batch.  You’d think I would’ve learn my lesson after the waffles incident.. but nooo.. 

..plus I made the arepas weeks ago and I’m just now getting to posting about them.

So once your batch is no longer super sticky, it’s time to form and cook.  

Preheat your cast iron skillet over medium-low heat.

Separate you lump into four (or in my case, eight) equal pieces.  Roll these pieces into balls.  Take a big piece of plastic wrap and place one ball at at time on one half of the wrap, fold the wrap over and squash the ball into a 5 inch disk. Repeat with the rest of your balls.

Once your skillet is hot enough, place one disk at a time on the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes per side.  And possibly 5 minutes after that.  This is why it takes for-eh-ver!! You’re averaging about 4 arepas an hour at this rate. Bleh..

cooking...

When they’re finished, they should have a nice char (those brown spots) to them and be rather dry and firm.  

arepas finished

We decided to eat these taco style, even though the recipe just says top with cheese*.

taco-style

As a final verdict, I have to say these tasted rather good.  However, the time factor does limit how many and when you can make these.  I would recommend making a bunch and then refrigerating or freezing them and heat them as you need them.  Otherwise you just end up pushing dinner back really late!

* There is a bit of confusion in the recipe where it says to mix the cheese into the dough and later to top the arepas with the cheese.. I think that mixing it into the dough would lead to a melt-y mess, so I recommend topping it with the cheese and reheating it if you want the cheese melt-y.

Whole-y Waffles, Batman!

This is a story about getting carried away.  This is also a story about miscalculating amounts.  In other words, this is a story that is a fairly accurate portrayal of my life. Starring Waffles.

The other morning, I really wanted waffles.  I think I saw a photo on Tumblr of a couple of beautiful, crisp waffles topped with fresh berries and maple syrup.  There may have been some whipped cream involved as well.  That image stuck in my mind and finally on Tuesday morning (which equivalates to Sunday for me) I got to prepare crispy, tasty waffles.

I used this recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook:

recipe

After a very rough.. and highly inaccurate.. calculation, I decided that this recipe on its own was not going to satisfy the breakfast needs of myself and my husband.  The husband suggested doing a one and a half recipe.. but my brain decided it couldn’t handle those calculations (I hadn’t had any coffee yet) and that doubling this recipe would be much easier.  

Besides, if I have leftovers, I can always freeze them! It’s like homemade Eggos!

So double it I did.

As normal, I laid out my necessary ingredients..

ingredients

And began.  Yes, those are four eggs you see up there.. yes.. they all went into the batter.  You’ll see where this ends up shortly.

Dry ingredients

The bowl of dry ingredients… this should have been a warning to me, but at this point it was too late to turn back!

Combined with the wet ingredients:

Combined

You see that glistening layer on top? Yeah.. that’s all oil.  I re-read the recipe at least five times to make sure my brain wasn’t just misfiring a neuron.  One cup of oil.  Yup.  That’s what it says.  At this point I’m starting to have some premonition that maybe this wasn’t my best idea. (or the best recipe for that matter.)

mixed

After much mix-age we get this.  The batter looks good, besides the oil glistening here and there.  Let me just say though, I never had a problem with the batter sticking to the scoop!

Now it’s time to add it to the…

waffler

waffle iron.  I got it from my grandma.

Stop laughing at it.  This baby has an.. um.. automatic light and a complete lack of cool touch safety features!  It’s from the 1970s and it still works.  That’s saying a lot right there.

Much waffling later, we get this beautiful Mount Waffler in the oven being kept warm at about 170F.

Mt waffler

I finally had my coffee too.. when I realized I was going to be waffling for quite some time..

coffee

Finally.. after nearly an hour.. I am treated to not one, but two mountains of waffle-y goodness! 

waffle-y

Finally, I was able to plate up my waffle, with its fresh strawberries and a little maple syrup!  The waffles that were not eaten have been frozen to be enjoyed another day.

Final verdict on this recipe: crispy at first, but gets kinda soggy from the steam of the other waffles.  I don’t know if I would make it again, even at normal size.  I might have to experiment with some other recipes.

breakfast

Enjoy! (In moderation)

When work starts to wear you down..

Go look at the garden. 

Yeah.. that wasn’t my most creative title.  Deal with it.  I’ve been dealing with Daisies all day.. and not the flower variety.

Let’s play catch-up with our garden denizens!

seedlings

Inside the seedling cage, the sprouts are doing well.  Really well.  I really need to start transplanting them to various other containers so they can grow a bit bigger before being planted in the garden.  That’s this weekend’s project.  (on a tangent note, my weekend happens to fall on Monday and Tuesday.)

peanut plants

In the garden the peanut plants are doing right well.  Though the one in the middle appears to have been nibbled by the local bunny population.  I’m going to be applying jalapeno spray to them soon.  I wonder if bunnies like capsicum?

cucumbers

The cucumber plants are doing marvelously.  I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t a bush variety instead of a vine variety.  I’m cool if it is, I just don’t see much vine-ing going on.  Instead I see….

cucumber blossom

Future cucumbers!! Several blossoms have opened up on the stems.  Fingers are crossed that they produce fruit (vegetables?).

That’s all for now!  

Here’s to a healthy harvest!