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Misfits, I am blown away at the response I’ve received to this vegetarian, mayo-free pasta salad.

I mean, I invented it on a whim.  In the kitchen.  Just, on the fly.  Without any magic sauce (mayo).  And oh.  Wow.  My inbox/voicemail/motherfucking carrier falcons have been flooded with requests for the recipe.

And it’s a pretty risky thing to overwhelm a carrier falcon.  They have those badass talons and shit.  So that tells you how good this stuff must be.

It’s guaranteed to please, impress, and save lives.  Pretty much a sure thing in an uncertain world.  So basically, I’m like the Red Cross.

Exactly!

So I recommend that you use this pasta salad to mitigate the risk in life’s various tenuous moments.  That barbecue your lover’s boss is throwing?  Bring this.  Your friend’s casual patio potluck wedding shower but oh my god no one I mean no one likes the guy she’s marrying he’s such a mama’s boy you know it’s going to be an uphill battle against her witch MIL for their whole marriag–

Where the fuck was I?

Oh, right, bring the pasta salad.  Your first date picnic?  Stow this in your basket, snuggled safely between the sparkling wine and the contraceptives.

What?  WE WERE ALL THINKING IT.

So to let tomato and basil (and pesto) season pass us by and keep this recipe all to Bad Mama Genny’s self?  Would be unthinkable.  I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I’m too much of a cupcake.

And you’re just too adorable when you flash me those big, sad, misfit eyes.  Yes, you are!  Ooooh, YESH YOU ARE WHO’S ADORABULZ PEEKABOO YOU ARE YESH YOU ARE!

Let’s never again speak of this moment we’ve shared.

So here you go: BMG’s Caprese Pasta Salad.  Make it and be just like the Red Cross!

Apparently.

My Most Requested Recipe of the Year: BMG’s Caprese Pasta Salad


Go Get:
1 lb. pasta (Campanelle is a great, dramatic shape for this, I used farfalle this time)
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved (or several large tomatoes, diced, with extra tomato juice squeezed out for another use)
1 lb. small, fresh mozzarella balls, halved (or if you’re using one large mozzarella ball, cut into 1/2 inch chunks)
1/2 red onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper (a little coarse is best)
2 lemons, juiced
olive oil (about 6-8 Tablespoons, give or take)
a generous handful of fresh basil, chiffonaded finely; if it’s out of season, use 2 pesto buttons
3/4 to 1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese, depending on your tastes (parmesan works, too, but the flavor will be different)

Go Do:
Boil the pasta, keeping it pretty al dente. Rinse under cold water, toss with a bit of olive oil, and leave out about 2-3 cups for another use (otherwise it’s too many noodles).

Toss the tomatoes, red onion, basil strips, and mozzarella balls with the pasta.

In a large bowl, use a fork to smash 3 cloves of garlic into the salt and some freshly ground pepper.

When it’s a chunky paste, whisk in the lemon juice.  Now, while still whisking, drizzle in the olive oil.  Taste it.  Is it too sour?  Add a little more olive oil.  If you’re using pesto sauce instead of basil, whisk it in until evenly distributed.

Now use that fork to incorporate the pecorino romano cheese.  This dressing will be thicker than your average vinaigrette–kind of like a runny paste.  Add until you like the taste and texture.

Now toss the pasta stuff with the dressing stuff.

Taste it.  Adjust the salt, pepper, or cheese if necessary.  Refrigerate until serving.

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Recently I was contacted in connection with this blog (WHOAH, SOMEONE CONTACTED YOU IN CONNECTION WITH YOUR BLOG, OMG, THAT MUST MEAN YOU HAVE, LIKE, AT LEAST ONE READER!  ahaha, shut up.).  The person who contacted me is a vegetarian, and he wondered if I’d ever considered vegetarianism, since my focus tends to be on healthy and humane eating.  He was as gentle and non-offensive as he could be while still firmly stating his vegetarian ethic.  At one point he added, “I personally consider humane-killing a joke,” and he wondered how someone who had hand-fed an animal all summer could then kill it and eat it at harvesttime.

This is not an easy issue.  This is so, so, so not an easy issue.  I’m an “animal lover”.  I’m probably responsible for the many allergies that I have as an adult, since as a child I never existed with fewer than 11 household pets at a time.  The idea of raising a hen for a few years of eggs and then slaughtering her when she stops producing makes me feel…terrible.  No joke.  TERRIBLE.  Couldn’t do it.

And yet I eat chicken.  I also eat beef, lamb, pork, bison, goat, and rabbit, among others.  Not often–The Boy and I eat vegetarian meals on a majority of nights.  But nevertheless, we do eat some meat, and I’ve struggled with this before.  Does it make people hypocritical if they eat animals they’re not so sure they could slaughter themselves?  While I’ve never gone gung ho vegetarian, I dabbled with a vegan lifestyle for a time while I lived in New York, and decided it wasn’t for me.

There are many anti-vegetarian rebuttals out there written by people who are ferociously defending their own choices with no small disregard for the arguments of the other side.  There are some disgusting and abhorrent things written and done by misguided vegetarians (oh, Lord, PETA, do you really need one more person to call you out?).

I don’t appreciate the extremist tactics of either side.  None of us have all the answers, and I won’t pretend to.  I also won’t stoop to making fun of the other side to make myself look better.  Chances are, we’re both a little right, and a little wrong.  But I’m currently living an omnivorous lifestyle, and I stand behind the reasoning that got me there.

Here’s an excerpt from my response to him.

I agree that it’s hard to believe happy animals can come from industrial animal farms.  That’s why I refuse to eat meat from factory farms.  I’ve instead chosen small, local, family-run establishments.  The offer has been extended to me to shake the hands of the people who care for the animals, and even to inspect their living conditions and pet the animals myself.  So I believe there are people raising animals in a kind and humane way.  It is not the majority of animals being raised for consumption today, sadly, and I am behind every effort to change those numbers.

As regards slaughter, yes, I do think I would find it difficult to slaughter an animal I had raised, but then again, I’ve never raised animals for slaughter.  How can we speak of what we do not know?  I’ve talked to some of the families that do, and they have told me it is something you never think you will be able to do, but seemingly miraculously, can and do with much less heartache than anticipated.  That they feel united to nature’s cycles when they raise animals for consumption.  That they have enormous respect and gratitude for the sacrifices being made by these animals for the well-being of people.  Again, I do find the idea difficult, but I’m open to trying my own hand at it someday.  I cannot attack it in good conscience because I have not tried to understand for myself.

I have great respect for the vegetarian movement and, aside from some fringe zealots, find most of their aims to be true and pure.  But I know these people that raise animals for human consumption, and their aims are also true and pure.  I find no reason to choose the vegetarians over the family farmers in this regard.

I’ve considered vegetarianism in the past, and lived that way for a brief span of 6 months, in that time taking care to substitute appropriate fats, proteins, and B-vitamins.  During that time my health wavered tenuously and I never lost that very primitive craving for meat.  Perhaps it is something I will try again in the future.  In the meantime, I see no cause for changing a lifestyle that is in accordance with my ethics and keeps me feeling healthy and satisfied.

What do you think, guys?  How do you connect “loving animals” with the choice to eat them?

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Why this photo?  Because happy vegetables make delicious salsa.

And also because the neighbors didn’t seem alarmed enough yet.

Anybody plant one little tomatillo plant and end up with bushels of fruit?  No?  How about you CSA subscribers?  Did you open your box this week only to be buried under 3 feet of little green paper lanterns?  No?

Okay, fine.  Well, any misfits out there like salsa verde?  Is that a good enough reason for you to read this, then?

Is it?!

IS IT?!

I have a compulsive need for approval.  I’m working on it. In the meantime you’ll just have to placate me.  I mean, if that’s okay with you.

A few weeks ago, The Boy and I attended the Chicago Beer Society’s annual picnic so he could show his support for his newest beer-related membership, eat and drink to excess, and have an excuse to make multiple kinds of potato salad (Kalamata Olive, and Hot Pepper Ranch).  What with a chili cookoff, a rib cookoff, an “other meats” cookoff (not as suspicious as it sounds, promise.  Okay, slightly suspicious.  Shut up, that pate was amaaaaaazing.  But it wasn’t, interestingly enough, “cooked off.”  Ooh, totally suspicious now.), a salsa competition, and 16 self-serve kegs of local craft brew, I don’t think I need to tell you how completely awesomesauce it was.

What I do need to tell you is that 16 self-serve kegs of local craft brew is a GREAT way to sell t-shirts that say “Chicago Beer Society” to people who aren’t even members of the Chicago Beer Society.  I won’t tell you whom.

I don’t want to name names.

Wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone.

Anyhoo, as I stood in the salsa line and surveyed my options, a revelation came over me.  Actually, what the hell, let’s call it an epiphany.  A life-changing, zesty, sweat-inducing epiphany.  I scanned crocks and bowls of various shapes and sizes, some containing chunky concoctions, some smooth, some with mango, some with cilantro, some that looked suspiciously like Pace Picante–

–friends, clearly the word of the day is “suspicious;” just puttin’ that out there.  Didn’t think we could ignore the truth any longer–

–and some that were so hot they were practically melting the Tupperware they came in.  But I wasn’t having any of it, folks.  ‘Cause most of them were red!  (Commie connotations aside.)

Now don’t get me wrong.  I like me a red salsa.  But oh.  Oh.  OH.  That green stuff is where my heart is.

That green stuff is where my heart is.  I must say that at least 80 times a day.

Enough time passed, and eventually 2 or 3 green salsas made it to the table.  And they were decent.  Good, even.  Not suspicious at all.  But I longed for the day when I could make my own salsa verde.  When some beautiful tomatillos would show up on MY doorstep, and then I could make my OWN salsa, and take pictures of MY salsa, and give you a recipe for said SALSA, and then I’d show EVERYBODY!

That’s right, I’ll show EVERYBODY.

All of them.  Whoever they are.

But there weren’t any decent tomatillos to be found.  None in a convenient two-block radius, at least.  Hey, I never said I was willing to go the extra mile for this salsa.  Just the extra two blocks.  So I commenced waiting…

Waiting…

Lurking…

More suspicious Lurking…

Waiting…

Until finally I was able to nab some fresh, locally grown, organic tomatillos.  Pretty convenient, actually–showed up in a kit with my CSA delivery, complete with a recipe that I didn’t end up using, since I already had one that was, oddly, pretty close to that one.

Anyhow.  Tomatillos.  Nom nom nom.  Actually, more like nom, ow, nom, eww, nom, spit.  ‘Cause tomatillos are hard little buggers that take a little softening up to bring out their delicious side.  A little cajoling.  A little persuading.  A little…something special.

Alright, so you dump in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, ‘kay?  Goooosh!

Let’s talk salsa.

We had this on steak last night.

Steak Before <cue sad trumpet noise that signals disappointment>:

Steak After <cue triumphant trumpeting>:

Whoah, yeah!  That steak is one prime suspect!  The crime?  Severe deliciousness!

It’s also great with chips, on burritos or enchiladas verdes (ooh, idea!  idea!), stirred into guacamole, or, oh hellz bellz, on eggs in the morning.  If I know The Boy, and I think I do, he’s going to come home from work (aka, that place that takes him away from me and causes me to cry and then actually get some work done and then cry some more) and stir this green heaven into vegetable juice for a spicy Bloody Mary.  He’s a genius, that there The Boy.

And not even a bit suspicious.

The Suspicious Salsa Verde to End All Suspicious Salsa Verdes (It’s the word of the day, guys, I kinda hafta take this all the way)

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Suspicious Ingredients:

10 to 12 tomatillos, suspicious, of varying sizes, peeled
2 teeny suspicious-looking onions, peeled
1 small bunch cilantro leaves (suspicious)
3 cloves garlic (I suspect them…of making this salsa awesome! Oh ho ho!)
1/2 jalapeno, with seeds (this makes a solid medium heat salsa; use more or less, or leave out the seeds, depending on your preferences); the jalapeno isn’t suspicious.  It’s just flat out diabolical.
1/2 T. lime juice (not so suspicious)
salt to taste (I used about 1 tsp.) (suspicions abound!)
freshly ground black pepper (I used about 1/4 tsp.) (SUSPICIOUS!)
Suspicious Directions:

Gather your ingredients. Hey, everybody know what time it is?

Tool Time!

Wait, wait, wait…that’s not right.

Tomatillo Time!

Yes, I do realize there are only 10 tomatillos on my clock.  Tomatillo time knows no numeric restrictions.  It knows no rules.  It only knows what the heart wants.  And the heart wants what the heart wants.  And the heart wants salsa verde.

“Hey, guys!  Can we join?!”

“Group huddle!”

“Should we let the outsiders join our tomatillo party?”

“They’re clearly not tomatillos.”

“Come on, Frank, don’t be such a jerk.  They probably have booze.”

“We don’t need their booze.  And we don’t need them!  WE DON’T NEED ANYBODY!”

“Frank…”

“<sigh>…Okay, fine.”

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Tong the tomatillos (yes, I did just use tong as a verb), into the water and let ’em cook until they’re just a bit softened–it took about 6 minutes for me.  Tong them (there I go again!) into a bowl and allow to cool slightly.

Throw all the ingredients except the salt and pepper into a food processor and give it a good whir.  Now, some people like to leave their salsa verde chunky–I prefer mine to be a bit runnier than that, with a coarse, jelly-like texture.

Process your salsa accordingly.  Now throw in a bit of salt and pepper to taste and pulse the processor two or three times to incorporate it really well.

You can enjoy this right away, or let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight before using.  Personally, I’m a fan of letting all those flavors sit and meld together.  But if you can’t wait, don’t beat yourself up about it.  I’ve been there, my misfits.  Oh, have I ever been there.

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True story: I hate cornbread.  Really.  I know that merely hearing the word “cornbread” has scores of other people fainting in ecstasy.

Do people faint in ecstasy?

Anyway.  I’ve NEVER liked cornbread.  It’s always so dry and crumbly and seems to require an entire glass and a half of water to choke it down.  I’ve tried to like it, really.  But anything that immediately sucks up my mouth juices and asphyxiates me with its corniness is generally not my thing.  In fact, even hearing the word cornbread makes me want to cough and gag.

COOORNbread ::cough::cough::

COOOOOOOORNbread  ::gag::gag::

See?  You misfits always make Bad Mama Genny prove these things to you.

Anyway.  When I saw this recipe for Custard-Filled Cornbread, I immediately dismissed it, after coughing and gagging for a little while.  No way is the cornbread ::cough cough:: gonna trick me, I said to myself.  No way is this tarted up little cornbread ::gag gag:: going to fool me into trying it so it can suck out my mouth juices and kill me with its corniness.  Soooo not falling for that one.

And then I thought some more about custard, and how delicious it is.  Custard doesn’t make me cough OR gag.  In fact, custard makes me sit up and listen.  Custard makes BMG go, “wow.”

And then I was all, what if this cornbread ::cough gag:: is different because of the custard ::wow!::?  What if custard ::wow:: is enough to make me like cornbread ::gag gag::?  Could I become a cornbread gag fan because of some simple custard wow?

I mean, wow.

Then I got a headache.  All the coughing and gagging and wowing.

Then I decided to try the damn thing.  And friends, it is fabulous.

And easy–the batter took all of five minutes to whip together, and the custard forms from a layer of cream that you pour on top right before baking.

Don’t get me wrong–I still hate cornbread :cough:.  But this is not cornbread ::gag::.  This is an effing cornCAKE, my friends.  A cake that you drizzle maple syrup over and eat for four meals a day, as I’m proceeding to do.  A cake that’s just as good with chili and cheese as it is with honey and cream as it is with maple syrup and banana slices.  A cake that’s good hot or cold.

A cake that would never suck out your mouth juices.

Friends, I would never allow your mouth juices to be sucked out.  I just don’t work that way.

Here is the recipe I used, which appears on the fab food blog, “First Look, Then Cook”.  By the way, thanks to my distracted state while I was baking, we now know that this recipe is extremely forgiving, because I accidentally threw in an extra egg, used whole milk yogurt instead of cream, and clumsily splooshed in a little extra vinegar.

So go ahead and enjoy your regular old dry, mouth-juice sucking cornbread ::cough cough  GAG GAG::.  But then eat this custard WOW.  And remember me, friends.

Eat this custard in memory of me.

<lightning bolt striking Bad Mama Genny, Bad Mama Genny smacking the shit out of the lightning bolt, lightning bolt running away with tail betwixt its legs while whining>

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“Ahmaga!  AHMAGAHH!”  The Boy was clearly trying to tell me something.

“What?” I asked, half-afraid he didn’t like the kitchari.  I knew I liked it, but he’d never tried it before.  Probably because I’d made him a steak out of misplaced guilt or something.  I do that.

Oh, God, I AM turning into my mother!

Anyway.  The Boy was making frantic fanning gestures at his mouth.

“HAAAHT!  Is haht! ::cough cough swallow::”

What’s that, The Boy?  You’re trying to tell me I’m hot?  Well, way to point out the obvious, but thanks, nonetheless, my good man!

“I was trying to say, the kitchari is really hot.  But oh, man, I could eat this every day!”

Oh.  Right.  Well, that’s still complimentary.  I guess.

But kitchari isn’t exactly pretty or elegant–in fact, it’s best described as, well, gruel.  But he’s right–kitchari kicks all kinds of ass.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with kitchari, it’s a dish that’s very popular among those who live according to the principles of Ayurvedic medicine.  Ayurveda is a philosophy and healing art designed to restore the harmony and balance of the body.  The main premise is that people can generally be classified as having one of four main body types, and that this type determines how you should eat, sleep, and exercise for the best health and longevity.

Whatever, man.  I just think it’s really good.

So what is it? Well, it’s a thick, stew-y dish of split yellow peas, rice, vegetables, and easily-digested spices, with a texture that I can best liken to a very thick, starchy oatmeal.  Because it’s low in fiber, non-challenging for compromised digestive systems, and extremely nutritious, it’s often used as the sole means of sustenance for ill people trying to get their bodies back into balance.

READ: I eat it when I’m hung over.

But that doesn’t mean kitchari is bland–the spice blend of fresh fennel and mustard seeds, along with crushed cumin, coriander, and turmeric makes this savory, warm, and not boring at all.  Try kitchari if you’re recovering from digestive upset and feel you may not be getting the nutrition you need.  Ulcer-sufferers, IBS patients, vegetarians, those poor, poor people making unkeepable promises to never, ever drink again, and even just healthy people who want a big, warm bowl of something primitively nourishing can all benefit from a big, warm bowl of this MAGICAL STUFF THAT TOTALLY BROUGHT ME BACK TO THE LAND OF THE LIVING OH GOD.

What’s that you say?  You’re horribly hung over, you say?  You feel sick as a dog, you say?

FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC!  Let’s eat!

Kitchari Recipe
Makes, like, a whole bunch

Go Get:
1 cup Brown Jasmine Rice (traditional recipes recommend white/basmati rice…I love the scent and texture of brown jasmine so that’s what I use.  You use what you like.)
2 cups Mung Dal (split yellow peas); I’ve also used half yellow split and half green split with great results
7 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tbs. Ghee (I just use regular melted butter, unclarified; use oil to make this vegan)
1Tbsp Fennel Seeds
3 tsp. Mustard Seeds
2 tsp. Cumin Seeds
2 tsp. Turmeric Powder
2 tsp. Coriander Powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Generous pinch ginger
1 heaping cup frozen peas
2 medium yellow potatoes
Large handful baby carrots, sliced into wheels
Large handful chopped cilantro leaves

Go Do:
Rinse and sort mug dal thoroughly.  Heat the butter/ghee/oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot, like a Dutch Oven.  Sauté the seeds in the fat until they start to pop.   Then add the other spices.   Add the mung dal and salt, and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes. Add water, bring to boil, then simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the dal is about 2/3 cooked.

Add rice and these vegetables. Stir to mix, adding extra water if the mixture is too thick.  Bring back to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes or until rice is fully cooked.  Keep checking to see if you need to add more water.  You want to achieve as little remaining water as possible, so make sure you leave the lid on the pot when you’re not stirring or checking it.  You’re not making a soup, or even a stew–remember my thick oatmeal analogy.  When the rice is cooked through, taste the mixture to see if it needs additional salt.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro.

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