Nightshade Free Adventures: Chili Edition

Nightshades. A veritable slideshow flipped through my head of past meals enjoyed followed by pain; all those meals had contained eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes, the main members of the nightshade family. Why hadn’t I thought of it sooner? Well, nowhere to go but forward. I finally had a starting point and so began my adventures in nightshade free cooking. As a chef, you can imagine suddenly having to limit my food choices was sad, but ultimately a culinary challenge.

I have distinct memories of little me holding onto my chest and begging my mom for some of her TUMS after enjoying a slice or two (or three…) of pizza. We would eat it often and I loved it. The indigestion and heartburn were a normal part of pizza enjoyment, I thought, and obviously, well worth it. My quest to quell the burn was a routine and only delayed if pouting was necessary- if the TUMS weren’t my preferred flavor. I would routinely chomp up the chalky tablets and think no more about it.

Fast forward to my early twenties, after graduating culinary school, where the heartburn problems continued. I could no longer ignore the burning pain that felt like a million fiery suns in my chest. I sought medical advice and given gluten intolerances were on the rise the doctor tested me to see if I too was being affected. I was a chef who had never had to worry about food allergies and I absolutely loved baking and hoped to open a bakery café someday. The thought of putting limits on my skill set and my dream was absolutely crushing. I sat on the floor of my kitchen and cried, awaiting the news. The call held good news and bad news for me—it was not a gluten intolerance or allergy, but they didn’t know why my stomach was “so angry.” Probably stress. While I was frustrated and still in pain, I didn’t question it. It seemed logical as being a chef does come with many stresses. I carried on, trying to avoid stress and too much coffee, and most days it felt like I single handedly kept the antacid industry afloat.

It was nearly a decade more before I finally had a break through. I was thirty and running a kosher kitchen at a conservative Jewish summer camp making a particularly delicious batch of baba ghanoush when some of the roasted eggplant splattered on my arm. Instantly, my arm was red, itchy, and a little blister formed on the skin. What?! It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen. Naturally, I wanted answers and once again sought medical advice, this time from my allergy and asthma doctor. Turns out still not technically “allergic” to eggplant, but if I reacted so strongly to it he suggested I should probably avoid it. And then he said something that made everything click…. “You are probably sensitive to nightshades.” The clouds parted and somewhere in the distance I swear I heard a chorus of heavenly voices. An epiphany!

Nightshades. A veritable slideshow flipped through my head of past meals enjoyed followed by pain; all those meals had contained eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes, the main members of the nightshade family. Why hadn’t I thought of it sooner? Well, nowhere to go but forward. I finally had a starting point and so began my adventures in nightshade free cooking. As a chef, you can imagine suddenly having to limit my food choices was sad, but ultimately a culinary challenge. I have the skill set to learn how to work around my new found dietary issues, sometimes I am successful and sometimes not. I am still learning and testing recipes and I am sure it will continue to be a process as I am continually finding out one of my beloved products has a surprise hidden nightshade in it. It proves to be one of the more challenging dietary restrictions I have encountered as a chef. I love me the nightshades and I miss them truly, but here I am, bound and determined to create some of my favorites without the pain.

Nightshade Free Chili is the first of these I feel I have mastered! It tastes and looks like chili without containing tomatoes, peppers, paprika, or even chili powder. Go ahead and give it a try one of these cold, dreary fall days and let me know what you think.

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Plums and beets replace tomatoes and give this chili its color!

Dani’s Nightshade Free Chili

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: Medium
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Ingredients

  • Olive oil                                  1 tablespoon
  • Onion, medium diced         2 cups
  • Garlic, minced                      4  cloves
  • Parsnips, peeled & grated   2 cups
  • Carrots, peeled & grated     2 cups
  • Beet, peeled & grated          1 cup
  • Red Plums, pitted & diced  1 cup
  • Beef Bone Broth                   2 to 4 cups
  • Sea Salt                                  1 teaspoon
  • Garlic Salt & Parsley           1 tablespoon
  • Ground Cinnamon              1/8 teaspoons
  • Ground Cumin                     2 tablespoons
  • Black Pepper                        1 teaspoon
  • Liquid Smoke                       1 drop only
  • Prepared Horseradish        2 teaspoons
  • Ground Beef, cooked           1 pound
  • Canned Beans, drained       3 cans (I like a mix 1 black bean, 1 kidney, 1 pinto)

Directions

  1. Gather all your ingredients. Prepare all the vegetables and measure all the spices out. Set aside.
  2. In a large pot, heat oil on medium high heat. Once oil is hot, sauté the diced onions until translucent.
  3. Add the minced garlic, grated parsnips and grated carrots to onions. Reduce heat and cook about 5 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add the grated beet and diced plums. Cook for about 5 additional minutes. These are what will give the chili its color (once it simmers—it will be bright pink at first! Do not worry!).
  5. Once all the vegetables have softened, add the bone broth (I start with half and then add more as it simmers, if necessary). Next add all the spices and seasonings. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes to begin to develop flavor.
  6. Remove pot from stove and set on a pot holder. Using an immersion blender, puree the cooked vegetables and broth mixture until smooth.
  7. Add the cooked ground beef and drained beans to the smooth sauce. Mix together and return to stove to simmer for an additional half hour.
  8. After simmer adjust seasonings, if needed.
  9. Enjoy chili hot and topped with cheddar and sour cream (if you’d like). Perfect served with a slice of fresh cornbread!

S’more Bars

These delicious morsels are the perfect way to curb your craving until you find yourself under the starry sky, alongside a campfire warm s’more in hand.

The Pacific Northwest is burning. Wildfires are raging and ravaging my beloved state and the ones adjacent, turning the air into a thick smog barely suitable for breathing. It is not the way one would hope to end the summer season. Late summer evenings are meant to be spent lingering near campfires and cherishing the smell of smoke on our clothes and the taste of a scorched marshmallow. For now, however, the campfires are on hold. But, does it mean the s’mores have to be on hold too?

No. There is another way. If you don’t mind the fact that the marshmallows aren’t flaming hot, s’more bars are just the solution. These delicious morsels are the perfect way to curb your craving until you find yourself under the starry sky, alongside a campfire warm s’more in hand.

S’more Bars

  • Servings: 48
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 package graham crackers (about 10 crackers)
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips (milk, semi-sweet, or dark—your choice!)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter or sunflower seed butter
  • 2 ½ cups miniature marshmallows

Directions

  1. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Place the graham crackers in a plastic bag and break into small bite size pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the graham cracker pieces and mini marshmallows.
  4. In a separate microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate chips and peanut butter. Heat for 30 second intervals and stir well after each heating until mixture is completely melted and smooth. Be careful not to overheat the mixture of the chocolate will scorch or seize and harden.
  5. Pour the melted chocolate mixture over the graham crackers and marshmallows and mix completely with a wooden spoon.
  6. Spread the s’more mixture into the greased 9 x 13 inch pan using the wooden spoon. Press out evenly. Chill in refrigerator until the bars are firm, about 1 hour.
  7. Cut the bars into 6 by 8 rows using a sharp knife.
  8. Enjoy or wrap with plastic and save for later!

The Fair

The fair is a magical and over stimulating foodie experience to be certain. A must each summer.

Many of my foodie habits were ingrained as a child long before I officially became a chef. Part of it was my family trying to support me in my dream of pursuing culinary, but a large majority of them simply stem from my parents’ own upbringing and feelings trickling down. Fond memories of childhood adventures that once seemed kooky or simply routine now drive this deep-rooted nostalgia and naturally move me to these same habits.

One of these being following the seasonality of food. Now by this I am not referring to only eating things that grow during their set season and region, although this is a fantastic food philosophy to support. What has been deeply ingrained in me and what I speak of is that there are certain things you must eat during each season to feel you have fully experienced the passing of said season; an obligatory seasonal food bucket list as it were. Each season has one and I find I am constantly working towards checking those boxes.

So as summer slowly begins to lose its grip on the Northwest, I find I am trying to squeeze every last bit of summer from my food. I am devouring all the fresh berries I can possibly eat with plans for a blackberry cobbler already underway. Salt water taffy fills the candy jar. And I consider the possibility the wild fires might squelch my longing for a hot, gooey s’more and what that could possibly mean for me. But more than the one-off foods here and there, summer holds one of my favorite and biggest, yearly foodie adventures…the fair.

The fair is a magical and over stimulating foodie experience to be certain. A must each summer. Food booth after food booth line miles of fairground expanse, each with brightly colored signs and flair all designed specifically to lure you in to eat. Hey, it worked on Hansel and Gretel. You may have tried one type of fried dough, but have you tried this one…or better yet this one?! Seriously, the love of fried dough in various shapes and forms (fried anything really) gets us every time. But there is something beyond just eating your body weight in neon candy floss and fried food at the fair.

There are animals, exhibits, and demonstrations all talking about food or food processes. Beautiful displays of locally grown produce are displayed as art. Jars of jams and pickles line halls adorned with ribbons. Farmers alongside kids in 4-H milk their cows and goats answering questions from those passing by. These days most people are removed from the origins of their food, but at the fair it is front and center. Indeed, it seems the fair is one of the last standing places where people feel comfortable seeing and discussing food at various stages, all without losing their appetite. Besides being vibrant and simply entertaining, the fair atmosphere is one of food information and inspiration.

Where else could you speak with a farmer about piglets and how big they grow before “becoming food” (about six months I am told) and then walk just a few steps away and indulge in a yard of bacon. Yes, you read that right…a yard. of. bacon. Certainly, not in a restaurant or grocery store. It would be out of place and make people uncomfortable, while at the fair it is natural. It is simply a part of life. It provides a time when people can be curious, ask their questions, and get some answers. Yes, I go to the fair in the summer to spend the day eating, however, there is more to it. I love a good country fair for what it represents, a reflection of a simpler time. A time when people were connected and communities grew with food. I think we should all work on bringing that simpler time back. Before it is too late this year, go to the fair! Be curious. Eat and learn!

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In a couple months when the weather turns and you begin to feel a longing for summer, make yourself some fried dough and marvel at the process of it all. I recommend one of my favorites, funnel cake. The best recipe I have found is below. Happy frying! **Warning: Breathing in too deeply near the funnel cake before taking a bite can cause temporary choking on powdered sugar dust. 🙂 **

Funnel Cake

Philly Dutch-Style Funnel Cakes

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Credit: foodnetwork.com Recipe by Dave Lieberman

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 4 cups vegetable oil
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk together.
  2. Gradually whisk in the milk, then the egg and vanilla, and finally the sugar and melted butter.
  3. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over high heat to 350 degrees F.
  4. Pour as much batter as fits into a funnel, holding your finger at the base of the funnel to dam it. Bring the funnel over the top of the hot oil, release your finger to begin the stream of batter, and move the funnel in a circular motion to create a spiral shape. Use about ½ cup batter per funnel cake, or more or less to your liking.
  5. Fry 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown and slightly puffed, turning over when 1 side is golden.
  6. Remove from oil and place on a plate lined with 2 layers of paper towels.
  7. Immediately top with a good scattering of powdered sugar.
  8. Repeat until no batter remains.

 

 

La Dolce Vita

Italy did not disappoint. It delivered “la dolce vita” at every turn. It surrounds you with an air of decadence and leisure, just absolutely begging you to sit back, relax, and enjoy. Couples dressed in formal wear sauntered down the cobbled alleys just to indulge in a bit of gelato by the Trevi fountain; a stark contrast against the frenzied mass of tourists. Pizza is nibbled slowly with fork and knife. Meals are never hurried.

Last fall I embarked on a journey with my parents. A trip of a lifetime a long time coming. See my family has had its fair share of ups and downs, mostly medical, and we had finally decided to shift our focus and make time to enjoy the present. An extended trip overseas became the daily topic of conversation. Neither my mom or dad had been on a trip aboard. Neither had a passport. My mom at 63 years old had never been on a plane. Both of them had mobility concerns. It was an idea equally exciting and scary. And it would require quite a lot of planning.

So where to go? Originally, Italy was solely where we would adventure for a time. A few weeks perhaps. Eventually, the plan included many countries, as it was uncertain whether either parent could make such a journey again. Might as well go all out. The resulting plan being two months chock-full of adventures. However, no matter how the plans shifted and grew, it always began in Italy.

DSCN8782Ahhhh Italy. The mere mention of it excites. For many years my mom has longed to go to Italy. To eat the food, speak the language, enjoy the coveted “dolce vita” or “sweet life” which we see in so many films, but seems to pass us by back in the states. While my dad claims he could care less about the food or the sweet life (yeah right), Italy was still a perfect choice for him as seeing art and history are two of his favorite things. I, of course, was going for the food. All things food. I had never been to Italy before. I was ecstatic.

Italy did not disappoint. It delivered “la dolce vita” at every turn. It surrounds you with an air of decadence and leisure, just absolutely begging you to sit back, relax, and enjoy. Couples dressed in formal wear sauntered down the cobbled alleys just to indulge in a bit of gelato by the Trevi fountain; a stark contrast against the frenzied mass of tourists. Pizza is nibbled slowly with fork and knife. Meals are never hurried.

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Late dinner in Rome at a small ristorante tucked in an alley 
Connecting Before a Meal
Guests connecting before dinner over a glass of Prosecco at Castello di Proceno

For me, it was this pace of the culture that sticks most now as I think back. We spent three sometimes four hours or more enjoying a meal. Perhaps it is because I am an American chef, but the pace of managing a kitchen and surrounding meals, while food-centric, is rushed. There is always something to do and as much as I love food, meals are often inhaled and usually enjoyed while hovering over a trash can or at my desk while sending emails. After a long day at work, my meal at home satisfies, but again often hurried and enjoyed at the sink or on the couch. Pure, unadulterated time to truly savor the deliciousness, the work that went into making it, the resources used to get it in front of you, and the company you are sharing it with, is lacking. The only things done with any sort of hurry in Italy, that I saw, were taking shots of espresso at the bar and driving a Vespa. Beyond that, people enjoyed. People were present. Being in Italy made me realize how much more I could love and enjoy food, if only I deliberately slowed down and took the time more often.

So we took a cue from the Italians. We savored. We lingered. We laughed (mostly when we realized this casual pace was exactly the pace my mom always took to navigate meals with her dentures). We enjoyed gelato by the Trevi fountain. We nibbled pizza with fork and knife (which is much more difficult than it sounds). And I brought it back with me. I have cleared my table, so I can sit and enjoy my meals at home. I try to make a point to mosey the local farmers’ market on a day off, grocery list in hand and meet the people that grow and make the food. I do it because at the end of the day when it comes to food and people, it isn’t about convenience; it is about connection. Sometimes we all can use a little reminder. Italy did that for me.