Monday, November 30, 2015

What to Do with Thanksgiving Leftovers?

Every year The Lovely Spouse and I make WAAAAAAY too much food for just one or 2 meals at Thanksgiving so we have lots and lots of leftovers. At some point you get tired of turkey sandwiches, and not everything freezes well [turkey does, so we recommend freezing it in ziploc freezer bags] so what else is there to do with the leftovers? Use them in other recipes, of course!

One of our favorites is this one for African Peanut Soup. The recipe as written doesn't quite work for leftovers so I made the following alterations:
1. Measure out 1 pound of turkey. Chop the meat into 1/4 inch cubes.
2. Measure out 2 pounds of candied sweet potatoes.
3. I substituted a medium-sized shallot for the onions. This is because I'm sensitive to onions. I also omitted the garlic.
4. Add slightly more cayenne. I added a full teaspoon of cayenne. If your sweet potatoes contain a lot of butter you may need to add more. Adjust according to your own taste.

Start the recipe  the same as originally written - add the oil to the pan with the curry powder. Add the onions (or shallots) and cook until translucent. Next add the stock, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. [If your ingredients are still cold from being stored in the fridge this will take longer than expected.]

Add the coconut milk, turkey, peanut butter (I recommend using chunky, "all natural" peanut butter), salt and pepper to taste, and cayenne. Bring the whole thing to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve with hot sauce on the side.

In our house this typically makes 4-6 servings. If you have LOTS of leftovers, double the recipe. This is a delicious way to transform your leftovers into something completely different.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you and yours the Happiest of Thanksgivings.

Image source

Here are a few of my go-to recipes for Thanksgiving:

1. Alton Brown's perfectly cooked Traditional Roast Turkey. The recipe is one of Food Network's top downloads for a reason. 

2. Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots from Betty Crocker. 

3. Candied Sweet Potatoes and Apples. They make a lovely pair. 

5. Mimi Assad's Cardamom Apple Pie. Cardamom and apples are delicious together. Rose water adds a unique flavor for an unforgettably delicious apple pie. If making your own pie crust scares you, there's no shame in a pre-made grocery store one. 

6. Apple Chestnut Stuffing. I love the taste of chestnuts, apples, and fresh herbs together. 

7. Green Bean Amandine. An easy onion-free alternative to the famous green bean casserole. 

8. Orange Blossom and Cardamom Rice Crispie Treats. I like cardamom in All The Things. 

In case you're wondering what to pair with your turkey and sides, here are a few suggestions. If you don't drink alcohol, I suggest a good, strong non-alcoholic ginger beer, such as the one made by The Ginger People

Pairing with turkey: Fetzer Gewurztraminer. Super inexpensive (incredible value) and available everywhere. My group of friends and I have been happy with this pairing for a number of years. The wine complements the turkey without overpowering it. It also pairs well with most sides. Do not pair it with desserts. 

Pairing with sides: If you can't get your hands on New Republic Brewing's Windlass Sweet Potato Porter (it is awesome!) another porter or robust, full-bodied ale will fit the bill. If you don't have any good local ones, try Sam Smith's Taddy Porter or Nut Brown Ale. If you're not a beer drinker you might like the 337 cab sav. Inexpensive, jammy, and full-bodied. It will go well with sage and rosemary - the herbs typically used for a Thanksgiving meal. 

Pairing with desserts: this will depend on the dessert. I like porters, stouts, and dark ales with rich chocolate desserts. Amaretto also pairs exceptionally well with chocolate. With apple-based desserts I like ginger beer or spiced apple cider. Pecan and pumpkin pie pair well with nut brown ales and New Republic Brewing's Dammit Jim! (the name of the beer has the exclamation point). 

After dinner drinks: I love the Quad Winery Elysium for a dessert muscat. Great lychee flavors and full bodied finish. It's a bit pricey, but worth it for a celebration. If you're in Texas try the Haak Madeira. A surprising find for a Texas winery: full-bodied, complex, and satisfying. For the quality of the madeira, it's very reasonably priced. If you love lemons, limoncello is always a great after dinner drink. If whiskey is your thing, Rio Brazos makes a lovely, complex small batch one called Boxcar. Nice as a sipping drink and lovely in a Manhattan.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this post constitutes endorsement of any product. These are my opinions and I'm not paid or otherwise compensated to blog or endorse anything. If anyone ever sent me a promotional thing of any sort, I'd declare it as such.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Recipe: Madras Beef Chili

I got invited to participate in a chili cook-off. The top prize was bragging rights among a group of friends. I only made chili once before but have been making curries for a number of years so I wondered about combining the 2. A search of the internet yielded...not much. So I made my own recipe.

Did I win the chili cook-off? As things turned out, the group of friends had so much fun just hanging out they forgot to judge it. So everyone wins! Or not. It was fun regardless.

This chili combines the rich flavors of a Madras-style curry with satisfying comfort of a chili. The base recipe below is flavorful without destroying your palate with spice. Add more or less cayenne pepper to control the heat. The chili reheats very well.

Madras Beef Chili

4 tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp chili powder
4 tsp freshly grated ginger
5 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp butter
2 shallots
2 lbs ground beef (80/20)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (unflavored)
3 cups beef stock (more or less depending on humidity and moisture content of other ingredients)
2 large white potatoes, peeled, 1 inch dice
4 medium carrots, peeled, 1/2 inch dice
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp smoked paprika
cayenne pepper to taste (start with 1 tsp and work add more as needed)
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine coriander, cumin, turmeric, pepper, chili, ginger, and lemon juice. It should form a paste. Set aside. 
  2. Stirring constantly, heat the butter in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium to high heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring constantly, until they're translucent. Turn up the heat to high, add the beef and a few pinches of salt, and cook until browned.
  3. Reduce the heat back to medium, add the spice paste from Step 1, mix well, and cook for 1-2 minutes. 
  4. Add tomato paste, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and stock. Add more of the stock so that the vegetables are covered, if necessary. 
  5. Add curry powder, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine. 
  6. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Simmer 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes thicken the chili.  
  7. Serve with bread, rice, corn chips, cheese, and/or Fritos. Serve with hot sauce on the side so that others can add more heat, if necessary.

Servings: 4-6 as a meal.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The 2015 Texas Renaissance Festival has Begun! Huzzah!

Yep, it's been awhile. I took a break from blogging due to academic duties getting in the way. Published a paper, wrote a grant, grant was funded (meaning it's now time to do the work), hosted an international conference, and all the normal day to day duties of administration, curriculum development, and mentoring research fellows. Blogging took a back seat to it all.

Not new for this year, but still my TRF breakfast of choice: a nutella, strawberry, and banana crepe. To find the vendor, when you enter the festival go to the left and walk along the left-most side of shops. You'll find them just before you get to the brewery. Also, the crepe pairs beautifully with the Brigadoon Brewery Black Plague Imperial Stout. Brewed on-site at the festival. If strong stouts aren't your thing, they have other beers, as well as exceptional craft beer from around Texas.
I've just now gotten caught up on almost All The Things and have a wee bit o' time to post on some of the things I've seen and done since June. Starting with the beginning of Texas Renaissance Festival season!  I've blogged before on the festival. It's a lot of fun. And this year I'm experiencing the ren fest with a playtron group (playtrons are ren fest fans). I'll blog on them only if they're okay with it. As of yet I haven't asked 'em.

Belly dancing might seem like a strange thing to have at a Renaissance festival, but it has become a modern tradition due to the inclusiveness of ren fests around the US and around the world to all kinds of artists. 
So what's new at TRF for 2015? The Greek area now has really nice concrete tables and chairs. You might also notice the baklava is now $7, but it's also supersized (sorry the picture didn't turn out). It's 3 times the size of previous years. I prefer mine with pistachios, but the ones at TRF this year were quite delicious.

New tables replace the wooden ones that were rotting.

New benches. 

Signs! Always helpful things to have.  And, yes, the biergarten remains.
There's a new area for retail that also includes a new pizzeria.  This is now the Florence Market and can be found where the mud pit used to be, near the wedding chapels and water gardens.

The Florence Market has tent-like structures. Most of the vendors are artists and craft-persons. 

Ogres toes.

Ask this person about the ogres toes. There's a story involved.

The new Florentine stage.
With so much amazing food elsewhere in the festival I wasn't in the mood for pizza. But there's a new pizzeria in the Florence Market if you get the hankerin'.

I noticed a new structure near the Florence Market. They sell magic wands.

Inside I was actually surprised at the really nice workmanship. Some of them even have compartments for "inner cores" of "phoenix feathers"and other items. No one tell my niece and nephew about this until after Christmas. :-) 
Not new, but awesome every year are the gardens. I suppose you could consider them new because many of the plants are the high-maintenance annual variety. And new planters and arrangements were added for this year. There are quiet spots throughout if you wish to get away from the crowds in a shade-filled area.

An orchid garden. I can't even keep orchids alive in my house. They must have some people with mad gardening skillz on staff.
Also not new is the Prince of Wales Pub. This is another place to cool off if it's hot out. They have air conditioning.

You can get food in addition to drinks at the Prince of Wales Pub, including the prime rib trencher, which is not available anywhere else at the festival. 

I tried a new to me beer. This was brewed in Germany and imported. It was alright. Not my favorite hefe or German beer. But it was refreshing.

No trip to TRF is complete without seeing at least one of Tartanic's shows. 

Do not wear wings if you intend on doing a lot of shopping. It's really hard to turn around without smacking people or knocking over displays. However they do look wicked cool.
Most ren fests have an evening Pub Sing. The one at TRF is at the Sea Devil Tavern and is presided over by the pirates. Yaaarrrrrr! Get your drink on and belt out some tunes before the fireworks start.
The 2015 Texas Renaissance Festival carries on the tradition of a great time out in Todd Mission, Texas. If you go, please check out my previously blogged pointers. Additionally:

1. Make sure you stay hydrated. That means for every alcoholic beverage you down, drink an entire bottle of water. If you don't want to pay $3.50 a bottle for water, bring a water bottle and fill it up at the drinking fountains outside each restroom.

2. This year kids 12 and under are admitted free on Sundays. There are many kid-friendly activities, including games and kid-friendly shows. There are also kid-friendly foods like pasta, pizza, fruit juice, etc.

3. The festival doesn't end until the final 3 booms of the fireworks show. It looks completely different after dark and most of the shops stay open until those final 3 booms.

4. If you drink, designate a driver and get home safely.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Xel Ha

One of The Lovely Spouse's favorite activities when we visit Mexico is to spend a day at Xel Ha. For about $100 US we can arrange a tour through our hotel or travel agent and this includes the meals for the day, towels, lockers, and snorkel gear. When we visited in April 2015 we decided to take the Colectivo and visit on our own. When viewing the pictures below, please bear in mind that the Yucatan was enduring a drought during our visit, so many of the images are far less green than they should be.

Prices at the door. Prices include food and drinks, towels, lockers, and snorkeling gear.
Xel Ha is a combination of nature preserve and outdoor water park.  It's a place to take a walk in the jungle, see some lovely flora and fauna, and to enjoy zip lines, snorkeling, tubing, and other activities. There are also shower and changing facilities at the park. I prefer to use my own mask and snorkel so I brought those for this trip and borrows fins from the park at no charge.

This is a screen capture of Xel Ha from Google Maps. As you can see it's across the street from the Dos Ojos cenote system and opens up to the ocean. Here, fresh and salt water mix resulting in a halocline (gradient between salty water and fresh water) that can be seen in the water.
If you take the Colectivo from Gran Bahia Principe it will cost 40 pesos and will drop you off on the highway on the side opposite the park. Climb the stairs and cross the highway via the bridge. There is barbed wire fence to discourage people from crossing the highway. The ticket counter is a short walk from the highway and we were able to pay in pesos via credit card. You'll be questioned regarding your sunscreen on the way in. Only reef-safe sunscreens are permitted. If you don't have any, they are available for purchase. I recommend applying it often as my experience has been the reef-safe sunscreens are less effective than others. [For your information, "natural" and "chemical free" do not mean reef-safe. I recommend buying the sunscreen at the park as myself and others have had skin sensitivity issues with the sunscreens listed on the Environmental Working Group's site, in addition to some of the sunscreens on their list containing ingredients (e.g., oils) known to degrade or disrupt corals. If you need more protection from the sun, I recommend wearing a tee shirt, rash guard, or dive skin. On the day we went I wore a tee shirt and shorts over my swimsuit, and used Xel Ha's sunblock. I saw a number of other visitors wearing dive skins.]

As you walk into the park you pass a large model of Tulum as it appeared when the ruins were occupied.
Whenever we visit Xel Ha we start with a walk around the park to take pictures. We then hop in the water and enjoy all the aquatic activities.

The rocky inlet leading in to Xel Ha. There's an automated lighthouse to warn water traffic.

The park as a sidewalk leading to a somewhat sandy beach. This is what most of the beaches in the area would look like without human intervention. The rocks are sharp and it would be difficult to walk here without the sidewalk.

This year the Yucatan is experiencing a severe "golden tide" of sargassum or seaweed. This little cove is normally my favorite spot for rest and relaxation. At this time it's too stinky from the rotting sargassum.
A Yucatan blue jay.

Helpful and educational signs throughout the park.

Singing ducks.

There's a canopy walkway to give a good view of the jungle. The Yucatan was experiencing a serious drought so things are not as green as they should be.
For an extra fee there's a sky cycle. We didn't do this because it was darned hot and that seems like a lot of effort.

There's tubing down a natural "lazy river" that starts in a mangrove forest.

Life vests are required in most of the aquatic parts of the park. They are available throughout so there's no need to carry one.

There are several families of the cutest animals on the Yucatan: coatis.

You can't go anywhere in the Yucatan without finding an iguana.
Mangroves. These trees are vital to the health of the coasts in the Caribbean and many other tropical locations around the world.

There are beautiful scarlet macaws at the park. These were part of a group of 3 that were out to get some enrichment for the day by flying around the park. They're trained to return to a whistle call, but act a lot like cats - who will come when they're darned good and ready.

Not shown in this picture, to my left park guests may jump off a cliff into the water below.

Guests may swim, tube, and snorkel the entire park. And they may enjoy the ropes course.

It's like American Ninja Warrior, but not. The Lovely Spouse made it all the way across. Me, not so much. Cargo nets are tougher than they look.

Hammocks in the shade = a lovely place to relax.

When you jump in the water you'll find all kinds of tropical fish.

You'll also find stratification of the water column from a halocline - or gradient of salt and fresh water. Because of the golden bloom there was also a lot of green algae in the water.

This picture is not out of focus. You can see some of the visual effects of the water. The mix of fresh and salt water makes it look like you're looking at everything through oil.

Zip lines!

I mentioned that food and drinks were included. How were they? There are 3 restaurants at Xel Ha. One is an international restaurant, one is a Mexican restaurant, and one is a fast food restaurant. I recommend the Mexican restaurant. [Many apologies for these pictures being out of focus.]
I prefer to eat at least wearing shorts, so we dried off enough for shorts and a towel. Wait for a host or hostess to seat you.

The food is all buffet.

A wide variety of food that was often checked for temperature and replaced.

A selection of ceviches.

Local and regional Mexican dishes.

A nice sized open air restaurant.

Our server brought us cervezas and tequilas for our meal.  The food, including the mole, was quite good.

There were other activities available for fees, including snuba, Sea Trek, and the dolphinarium. There was also an on-site spa and an extra fee cenote tour. There was more than enough to do without bothering with those.
Sea Trek is like scuba diving without needing to take any lessons or fill any tanks.
In all Xel Ha is a lovely way to spend a day. There's more than enough to do and see to justify a whole day away from the resort and there's plenty to do for people of all ages and abilities.