I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Back in black

To get back to where we were, before being so rudely interrupted by political posts, this week begat a new nibble meal. For a year or so I've had this recipe for the Baja Fresh (BF) dark salsa clone from the Top Secret Recipes guy (I bought it from him, but it's also all over the internet if you do a search).

Not being a particularly rabid salsa fan otherwise, the Salsa Baja at this chain is something I could swim in forever and never tire of. Others have declared the same thing. I stop at BF from time to time and order a veggie tostada just to eat the aforementioned salsa. It is rich, black, and smoky, and not at all sweet. So I finally set about trying to make it at home.

And it worked! My result was not nearly as black as the original (probably because I did not use a grill; time to get the George Foreman out of the storage unit), and it was also thicker, but it was so good I may like mine better. I think what everybody loves is the smokiness, as the ingredients are really just standard salsa fare.

The clone recipe calls for roasting whole, cold tomatoes on a grill, and adding a jalapeno pepper halfway through roasting, turning to blacken all the sides evenly. Per the suggestion of another commenter somewhere on the internet, I cut my tomatoes in half and roasted them in the toaster oven cut side down for about 40-45 minutes, and since the sides weren't getting any blacker after 40, that is probably enough time. I also forgot to get a jalapeno on the last grocery store trip so I used a bit of chipotle chili sauce from canned chilies at the end instead of the roasted jalapeno. NOW we got some smoky goin' on, citizens!

Other departures from the cloned recipe include halving it (which may also explain why it is not as dark as the original), and adding a bit more tomatoes, lime juice, onions, and cilantro. I add more veggies anyway when I get the fixins off the Baja Fresh salsa bar- one portion cup of the salsa baja, one of the salsa fresca, one of chopped cilantro, plus a wedge or two of sliced lime- mix and squeeze and apply lavishly. So if you want a less chunky result more like the original salsa itself at BF, cut the veggie proportions in half and add more water to taste.

Serving suggestion for a super Super Bowl- line a shallow serving bowl or casserole with chips, add a sprinkling of chili beans or some Texas Caviar, then a drizzle of black salsa, a drizzle of nacho sauce, and a few dollops of sour cream (my preference is non-dairy), as well as some extra minced onion and jalapeno for the top. Serve with wedges of fresh lime for squeezing over the bowl.

Black Salsa

3 medium-large tomatoes, cut in half

½ tsp. chipotle chile sauce
1 medium clove garlic, peeled
½ tsp. salt

¾ cup water
1 Tbs. lime juice

1 small-medium tomato (such as a Roma), diced
2 Tbs. onion, diced
2 Tbs. cilantro, minced

Set oven to 450 degree F. Place the three medium-large cut tomatoes cut side down on a baking tray with sides on the upper rack of the oven (a toaster oven works fine and saves energy). Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the skins are very charred.

Allow tomatoes to cool a bit until you can comfortably handle. Add roasted tomatoes (with any liquid) through salt to a blender, and puree on high until thoroughly smooth. Add water and lime juice and blend again on high for 30 seconds.

Pour the mixture into a bowl. Add the diced tomato, onion, and cilantro, fold in gently, and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate a few hours to blend flavors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Did you post your question yet?

Sorry this blog has gotten political and partisan recently but I hope to remedy that soon. The SOTU (State of the Union address) is tonight, did you post your question? Whether Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Plaid, don't miss your opportunity.

Here's mine:

President Obama, thank you for this opportunity. As a Democrat and taxpayer, I support swifter action to reign in excess spending in a responsible manner. Please outline some of the programs/functions we can streamline to reduce duplicative function.
ceblakeney, Annapolis, MD

Saturday, January 21, 2012


To celebrate the new year and the current presidential campaign excesses season, without driving ourselves off a cliff or to a monastery, let us pause and reflect on some of the challenges we are facing in the modern u. s. of a. One of them being the current, unending, debilitating, and execrable debate about health care. Or perhaps the more correct phrase would be sick care.

Used to be people went to the doctor when necessary, and did not need health insurance to be able to do so. When did it become impossible to afford a simple doctor visit? When we started expecting somebody else to fix the results of our lifestyles, that's when.

I do not advocate expecting somebody else to fix the results of our lifestyles. And I did not care for all of the components of the legislation the party opposing Barack Obama is trying to disembowel. The desirable components I do support are the ones that give access to all of us, no matter our station in life. The undesirable components are those that ensure insurance companies will continue to profit from our inability to manage our own lifestyles, through mandatory insurance requirements. Cha-ching!

However, this legislation certainly did get the opposing party's attention, didn't it?

Where was that attention when I, and many millions of others, were going to work every day, paying our mortgages and other debts, and contributing the best we were able, while not making enough to cover the insurance premiums, and therefore being locked out of the general sick care system? This situation has been going on for decades, so where was the attention? Seems like unless our success mirrored that of certain presidential candidates, we weren't invited. And in my 54 years, I have never taken a scrap of welfare outside of my tax deductions (OK, welfare by another name) which don't hold a candle to those of the average "successful" presidential candidate. So no, I wasn't living on the taxpayer's dime (but there was the occasional bail-out from my parents).

My own solution was to live my life as best I could in order to not require services from the sick care industry. I was young, and relatively bulletproof, and the adoption of a vegetarian diet no doubt helped (but I won't be surprised if there is blow-back from some in the non-veg contingent).

Eventually I scratched and crawled my way through the gauntlet of higher education to complete a couple of college degrees and land a position with an independent state agency (self-funded; a fee-for-service agency of the state of MD) where I can more effectively support myself, contribute to the well-being of my state, and where my employer picks up 80% of my sick care premiums. If I were an independent contractor in a similar position, with a similar salary, the total premium would be far higher than what it is now, and I would not be able to pay it.

Being older now, and not as bulletproof, there have been a lot of doctor visits over the past couple of years. Probably more than in the combined previous thirty+ years of my adult life. Maybe because I let a whole lot of health issues slide that should have been addressed years ago. Walking in the door of my sick care provider now costs at LEAST a hundred dollars, often more; my copay is only fifteen of that hundred due to being enrolled in an insurance plan.

Which several million people in this country still cannot access, and may never be able to, because they've never been considered important enough to be included in the system before now.

So to end the sermon, let's take a peek at this video and consider our own lifestyles, and perhaps take some steps to eliminate the need for the health care legislation we have apparently forced ourselves into, and which some oppose. Time to pay attention.

And a shout out to the Yellow Rose of Texas, Joanna, for the link. My sincerest thanks, and sorry it's preceded by such a downer post.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


There was a fleeting brush with reasonable weather last week that I thought was supposed to last more than a day or two, but as is usual in this area, if you count on anything related to the weather, you are a silly fool. Temps are hovering around freezing, not unusual for much of the country in January, but still not welcome here.

Plus, given the weird sinus infection that popped up this past couple of weeks (it felt like my teeth were going to explode) and now has me on an antibiotic , I'm not drinking any wine so as not to mess up the effectiveness of the drug. So let me tell you buddy, this weather had REALLY bad timing.

Good excuse to make chowdah. This one is not the prettiest face in the crowd, sorry- it looks a little dingy, and frankly, kinda green. The finished product would have been much more attractive, I think, if the mushrooms were sauteed separately, and then added after the puree step, but the results would still be yum no matter how you smashed em'. Potatoes and corn and mushrooms and onions and carrots and garlic. How could you possibly go wrong? Absolutely delish.

I tried this initially without adding flour for thickening, thinking that the partial pureeing would thicken things up nicely, but it didn't work. I know you're supposed to mix thickening agents with cold water, but just removing some of the hot liquid from the soup and blending with the flour worked fine (wouldn't work with cornstarch though, if that is your thickener of choice- use cold liquids only).

I didn't use veggie sausage this time, but if you want an even more substantial bowl, brown up a little bit and add right before serving.

Potato, Mushroom, and Corn Chowder

2 Tbs. Earth Balance butter or oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups peeled, diced boiling potato such as Yukon Gold (~2 medium)
1½ cups corn kernels
4 cups vegan chicken-style broth
2 Tbs. vegan bacon-style bits (optional)
½ tsp. poultry seasoning

2 Tbs. flour

2 Tbs. nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp. salt, to taste
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Optional: 4 oz. sliced veggie sausage

Heat butter or oil in a large pot and cook onion through garlic until just tender.

Stir in potato through poultry seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Scoop about a quarter cup of soup broth into a small bowl, add the flour, stir until it is very well blended, and return to the pot.

Add nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper to taste. Remove a cup or so of chowder, puree in a blender, and return to the pot (or just run an immersion blender around the pot a bit). Stir well, cooking for a few minutes to thicken, and serve.

Variation: Brown 4 oz. sliced veggie sausage over medium heat, and stir into chowder right before serving.