Veggie Redux: Vegetarian Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole

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Does anyone else remember this dish from childhood? This cheesy casserole of broccoli, chicken, and rice was one of my favorite meals while growing up. I remember digging into a plateful of creamy, cheesy broccoli rice at the end of many a late soccer practice. When the weather started to get cooler and the days got shorter, I would spend the waning hours of daylight doing trapping drills, taking shots, and scrimmaging with my teammates. Sometimes it got so dark that our parents headed to the cars to run the heat and illuminate the field with their headlights. When I finally got home, cold, muddy and famished, a cheesy casserole was the ultimate comfort food.

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Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlets make it easy to recreate this dish without meat*. If you’re not into meat substitutes but you want to replace the protein lost from removing the chicken, add a can of chickpeas or a block of silken tofu to the mixture before pouring into the casserole dish and baking.

My intention is that this hearty casserole will be a welcome treat for Kyle when he gets home from a late bicycle ride or a long day of work. Because it’s a one dish meal, I can make it ahead of time and then pop it in the oven to reheat, and cleanup is very easy. I hope that this crowd-pleasing dish finds a place on your table as the weather gets cooler and the annual nesting and hibernating begin!

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Vegetarian Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole

Serves 8

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups short grain brown rice
  • 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cups frozen broccoli, chopped
  • 4 ounces artichokes (frozen or marinated), chopped
  • 1 – 9.7 ounce package of Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlets, thawed and diced
  • 2 cups lowfat milk
  • 2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat vegetable broth over medium heat. Add brown rice and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 40-50 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.
  2. While rice is cooking, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, broccoli and artichokes. Saute until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add naked chik’n cutlets, diced, and continue to cook over low-medium heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. In a medium pot over medium heat, combine milk and flour with a whisk until fully incorporated. Cook for 8 minutes then remove from heat.
  5. To the milk sauce, add yogurt or sour cream, 1 cup of shredded cheese, tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add the brown rice and cheese sauce to the large pot with the vegetables and vegetarian chicken. Transfer to a large casserole dish and top with 1 cup of shredded cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

*Not a sponsored post, just a fan of Quorn!

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Give a Gift That Keeps Giving: Shop for Charity this Holiday Season

A few years ago, Kyle and I started a pretty cool holiday tradition. While attending college full-time and working part-time, we were both on a tight budget. Like many couples, we set a spending limit on our Christmas gifts to each other so our wallets wouldn’t be stretched too thin. I first wrote about how we budget for the holidays in this post from last year. The most meaningful part of this tradition for me was that a portion of our spending limit has always been allocated to charitable donations. Every year, we each make a donation in the other’s name to a charity that is important to us. It is really important to me that even while we had very little to give, we maintained the practice of donating to organizations that worked to help those who were less fortunate than us.

I have noticed a trend over the last few years of gifts connected to charitable causes. This allows you to give an actual material gift to the special person on your list, and also support a charity whose mission you believe in. You may have seen Product (RED) items in various retailers, or you may be familiar with companies like TOMS that use a portion of the proceeds from product sales to fund charitable work. Last year, Kyle and I honeymooned in Colorado and while there, we picked up a bunch of soup kits from the Women’s Bean Project to give to family and friends for Christmas.

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The soup kits are made  by women in Denver, CO who are chronically unemployed, and the proceeds from the sale of these products go to support programs that help women develop the skills they need to get and keep a job. WBP2

Of course we picked up a few mixes for ourselves too, and I can attest to their deliciousness. If you would like to try them, you don’t have to fly to Denver like we did. You can order these and other gifts online at the Women’s Bean Project store. If soup, dip, and baking mixes and gourmet foods aren’t your thing, or if you’re shopping for a loved one whose interests lie outside of cooking, here are some other ideas for gifts that keep giving this holiday season.

BeadforLife is a Fair Trade Federation organization that helps Ugandan women sell their handmade jewelry to earn a living wage. Their online store features beaded jewelry, loose beads, shea butter body products and more.

GreaterGood.org is a website that compiles product listings that benefit multiple organizations. I love that this site allows you to Shop by Cause, so that you can choose to shop from the Hunger Site to fight world hunger, the Animal Rescue Site to fund food and care for rescued animals, the Breast Cancer Site to fund mammograms for women in need, the Rainforest Site to protect endangered habitats, or purchase from other stores that benefit causes including Veterans, Autism, Diabetes, or Literacy.

You are probably already familiar with TOMS shoes, which donates one pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair you buy. Did you know that TOMS also has an Eyewear division that provides prescription glasses to U.S. middle school students in need? Shop for really cute sunglasses at the TOMS online store to support this cause.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has teamed up with Lands’ End this year to produce hundreds of items in their online store for which Lands’ End will donate 20% of revenue to LLS. Items can be personalized with logos and monograms, as well as the LLS “Someday is Today” logo if you would like.

The ASPCA online store has a ton of great gifts for pets and pet-lovers, with or without the ASPCA logo. Some of my favorites include the DJ Cat Scratching Pad  (<- it is so worth it to click that link) and the Anti-Puppy Mills Tote.

The International Princess Project is an organization that provides much-needed resources to women and girls escaping sex slavery in India. The women are rehabilitated in sewing centers, where they produce clothing for sale in countries around the world and work to achieve lives of hope and dignity. Punjammies is a fun line of loungewear produced by the women in IPP sewing centers to fund their programs.

Shop the Product (RED) store to fund HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. Partner brands agree to donate 50% of revenue for these items to The Global Fund, and 100% of the money raised by The Global Fund goes to fighting AIDS in Africa, with the goal of eradicating the disease.

To see more ideas and links to sites that make giving back easy, check out my Pinterest board, Gifts That Give Back!

Warm Up With a Homemade Gingerbread Tea Latte

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Is there any part of the country that isn’t  having a cold spell right now? The frigid weather in Richmond (among other things) is keeping me from leaving my warm toasty house today. I absolutely have to share with you this delicious beverage that I concocted to stay warm this weekend, as well as an ingenious method I discovered for frothing milk without a fancy machine! This recipe and method are so easy that even a one handed blogger on pain medication (I) can do it!

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you may have picked up on a post from about a month ago in which I announced I had had a bike accident while on vacation in Asheville, North Carolina.

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I spent the night in the hospital for observation due to the head trauma, had the bones set back in place, had my bumps, bruises, and road rash cleaned up, and then I was released the next morning. We cut the vacation short, returned to Richmond, and about a week later, I had surgery to have plates inserted in my left wrist and right hand. I have been recovering ever since, and both hands have been pretty useless for five weeks, which is why the blog has been quiet since October. Now that I am starting to use the computer again, and I was able to convince my husband Kyle to type for me, I am finally able to post an update!

Thanks to everyone who tweeted and commented messages of support and positivity while I have been recovering from the accident and surgery. Thanks also to Kyle for helping me out with this post, not to mention ALL the other things he has had to help me out with since the big fall. I can’t wait to reschedule our Asheville 1-year anniversary trip once I’m healed (and out of medical bill debt. . .) so we can go back and do all the things we missed out on the first time.

Now. . . on to my super simple Tea Latte recipe! The recipe calls for five ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen.

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My Gingerbread Tea Latte features Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice tea, but you could use any tea you have on hand to make your own version. The other four ingredients are: milk, pure vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, and agave syrup (you may substitute the sweetener of your choice).

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I found the milk frothing method online at theKitchn.com and I couldn’t believe it worked until I tried it myself. The yield and quality of foam is less than what you get from a steam wand on a commercial grade espresso machine, but for making one or two drinks at home, it certainly does the trick.

  • First, you pour your cold milk into a glass jar and secure the lid. Make sure you use a jar large enough that the milk fills the jar no more than halfway.
  • Second, shake the jar as hard as you can for about 30 seconds.
  • Third, remove the lid (if metal) and replace with plastic wrap or a microwave-safe material.
  • Fourth, microwave the milk until hot to stabilize the foam and heat up the liquid for serving.
  • Last, pour into your drink, holding back the foam with a spoon, and then scooping the foam on top of the beverage.

I was very impressed with the results!

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The foam held up for at least twenty minutes while I photographed and then sipped the drink. Four ounces of milk yielded two to three ounces of foam, which was a great proportion for my latte.

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The foam even held up pretty well after I topped it with cinnamon (which almost always eats away at the volume of bubbly froth at the top of a beverage). I hope you enjoy this delicious drink that tastes like fresh baked gingerbread in a fraction of the time (and for a fraction of the calories!).

Gingerbread Tea Latte

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Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice herbal tea
  • 2 teaspoons agave syrup (or equivalent sweetener of your choice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup 1% milk (or the milk of your choice)
  • dash of ground cinnamon

Preparation:

  1. Heat water in a tea kettle. Add 1/2 cup hot water to a mug with the tea bag. Steep for 4 minutes, then remove tea bag.
  2. While tea is steeping, froth the milk. Add cold milk to a jar and shake vigorously, with lid on, for 30 seconds. Replace lid with microwave safe lid or plastic wrap and microwave for 45 seconds on high.
  3. To the tea concentrate, add agave (or sweetener), and vanilla, and stir.
  4. Using the back of a spoon to hold back the foam, carefully pour the milk into the tea concentrate, then use the spoon to scoop the milk foam on top of the drink.
  5. Top with a dash of cinnamon and drink while hot.

Enjoy, and stay warm!

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Vegetarian Beer Dinner III

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments and words of encouragement on my last post. This beer dinner recap is a few weeks late, but I cut myself some slack, since the week after the beer dinner I focused solely on preparing for my first half marathon, and I have been recovering ever since! Thank you for your patience!

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It’s that time of year again. . .

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Seasonal vegetarian beer dinner time!

A few weeks ago, I hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner to celebrate the flavors of late winter and early spring. Some good friends showed up with vegetarian dishes paired with seasonal beers, and we all enjoyed tasting a diverse array of delicious combinations. You might recall that this is the third dinner of its kind that we have hosted en la casa de Vegology.

Check out my recaps of past beer dinners here:

Vegetarian Beer Dinner I – Summer 2012

Vegetarian Beer Dinner II – Winter 2012

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As usual, we had notebooks for taking notes on our favorite pairings, as well as the ever-present “Beer: it’s not just for dinner” cocktail napkins. Of course there were plastic tasting glasses, because my only dishwasher is named Kyle, and I love him enough to keep him from washing fourteen glasses by hand when we already have fourteen plates and fourteen forks to take care of!

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I offered oyster crackers as a palate cleanser this time around, and they were a real hit. Someone enthusiastically commented “I only go wine tasting for the oyster crackers!” I have to say that I agree that these little crackers are one of the highlights of wine tasting in Virginia. Smile

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Our dining room was jam packed with chairs and people. I don’t know if I could have fit any more seats in there! Not only was the dining room full, but we also packed the refrigerator and a cooler full of a wide variety of craft beers. Here is the lineup: Potter’s Craft Cider, Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Brewer’s Art Debutante, Bell’s Oarsman Ale, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, and The Duck Rabbit Brown Ale.

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Course 1 – Sarah (The Smart Kitchen), Liz (I Heart Vegetables) and Lindsay (Neat As You Please)

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Sarah, Liz and Lindsay put together an awesome appetizer of Apple Fennel Salad Skewers with Creamy Ginger Apple Honey Mustard Dressing (recipe). They paired this with Potter’s Craft Cider, and the complementary apple flavors were a great fresh start to the meal. Sarah won the prize for best pairing story, explaining why she wanted to use Potter’s cider (a cute guy in the tasting room had something to do with it) and how she came up with her dish (why not put salad on a stick?).

Course 2 – Adrienne (Hippie Itch) and Al

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I was super impressed by Adrienne’s made-from-scratch samosas (recipe from Skinny Bitch), that were totally vegan and bursting with flavor. Just like their pairing, the Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, these perfectly portioned appetizers packed a serious punch, but with enough restraint that they didn’t knock you completely over, so you could really enjoy the complex flavors inside. If I can muster the patience to make this dough from scratch, I would like to try making this one at home sometime.

Course 3 – Lauren and Kyle (Vegology)

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For the entrée course, I made Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes. We all joked that Adrienne and I must have been on the same wavelength with the Indian flavors! You can follow the link above to get the recipe and to read about how I came up with my pairing. Kyle and I tasted a lot of beers before we chose this one, and we ultimately decided to serve Debutante, a saison which is a collaboration beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Brewer’s Art, both from my hometown of Baltimore.

Because it was dark by the time we got to my course and I couldn’t get a great picture during the dinner, I can’t resist posting this glamour shot of the dish here:

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Course 4 – Paul and Leah

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Our friends Paul and Leah brought over a pairing that, no matter how fast you paddled or how hard you tried, you couldn’t get away from. Beets! After having this tasty Golden and Crimson Beet Salad with Oranges, Fennel and Feta (recipe), we noticed that little traces of bright pink kept showing up in subsequent courses. Check out the next two photos on this post to see what I mean – we got the beet! The beer paired with this course was Bell’s Oarsman Ale. I always thought this beer tasted a little sour (in a good way) and after reading the Bell’s description, I realize there is a better way to describe the flavor – citrusy tartness – which paired very well with the citrusy beet salad. This was one of the few dishes that I went back for seconds on, so I know it will make another appearance in my kitchen soon.

Course 5 – Bob and Ashley

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Our friends Bob and Ashley hit a home run with their comfort food pairing, which included a creamy polenta cooked with beer and Asiago cheese, with Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils to wash it down. I begged to keep the leftovers and Bob and Ashley were too nice to say no, so I was treated to a second serving of this delicious polenta the next day (okay, the next morning. no judge!) Bob is a skilled home brewer that taught Kyle a lot of what he knows about brewing beer. Bob and Kyle’s latest home brew creations came out a little bit later, which is always a fun add-on to the tasting dinner.

Course 6 – Shannon (Thirsty Richmond) and Evan

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Shannon, the Queen of the Beer Cakes, did it again with another fantastic beer baked dessert. Even though Shannon’s oven failed to turn on the day of the dinner, Shannon found a way to get us a creative dessert. If I had found myself in the same situation, I might have just given up and picked up a pack of cookies on the way over, but Shannon persisted. Spontaneously turning her vegan cupcake recipe (similar here) into a vegan brownie recipe, she fired up the toaster oven and pulled off a brownie bar that was so good that I didn’t even miss the cupcakes (and let me tell you, her cupcakes are out of this world). She used Duck Rabbit Brown Ale in the batter and as the pairing beer.

Not 100% confident that the brownies would turn out well, Shannon also picked up a pack of Oreos (vegan!) on the way over just in case. We cleaned our plates and made a dent in the Oreos. And then there were all those leftover “extra” beers that mysteriously disappeared, one by one, as the night went on. Go team beer dinner!

Thanks to all who participated. We had a blast and I’m already dreaming up plans for the next one this summer!

How to Have a Healthy Holiday

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For most health nuts, the holidays are one of the few times of the year that it is okay to indulge. Faced with a month-long celebration of decorated cookies, seasonal coffee drinks, festive cocktails, and comfort food, most people just give in. Knowing that the New Year’s Resolution reset button is right around the corner, most of us will feast our way through December. Personally, I have always maintained my vegetarian diet through the holidays, but I have indulged in more gingerbread cookies, peppermint mochas, winter ales, and seasonal cocktails than I normally would.

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This year, I am hosting Christmas dinner at my house for the very first time. It is actually the first time I have spent Christmas in Virginia, and Kyle and I are very excited to spend our first Christmas morning in our new house. Because I get to plan the menu, I want to have plenty of healthy options and serve some really delicious food at the same time. My first Christmas dinner at home presents a few challenges though. I will have two vegetarians at the table, a few people who would prefer to see meat on their plates, and one guest who is following a very strict low-carb diet. I need to serve some meat, some high-protein vegetarian dishes, and several low-carb items. At first the task was a little daunting, but I am always up for a challenge. No, really. Like, always. Maybe to a fault.

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Since I love a good problem-solving session, I can honestly say I’ve had a blast working through a menu. I have a lot of ideas and I haven’t narrowed it down completely, so I thought I would share a few of my thoughts here with you. I am positive that some steamed vegetables will make an appearance, but I found the dishes listed below to offer something a little more special on the table. If you too are trying to build a health-conscious holiday menu, maybe some of these dishes will make your list.

As always, please note that I am no expert and if you have a restrictive diet for medical reasons, you should consult with a registered dietitian and your doctor before making any changes to your diet. Or else I might unwittingly lead you down a path paved with peppermint mochas and fried tofu, to possible digestive ruin.

The following recipe collection is very carbohydrate conscious. There are several options that I think would work for those who are watching their blood sugar. I hear that people on the paleo diet also watch their carbs, so some of these might work for them too.

If you are worried less about carbs and more about what to serve your herbivorous guests, check out my post on What to Serve Vegan and Vegetarian Party Guests or my Vegetarian Holiday Recipe Roundup.

Have ideas of your own that you would like to share? Please comment below with your favorite healthy holiday dishes!

Vegetarian Beer Dinner II – Winter 2012

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It’s that time again. . . time for taper stuffed beer bottles. Time for miniature tasting notebooks. Time for the mad dash to get everything cleaned, cooked, and ready before company arrives. That’s right, it’s time for a potluck vegetarian beer dinner!

After a successful vegetarian beer dinner last August, I vowed to have a seasonal one again in the Fall. Between the wedding and honeymoon, my gig at the farmers’ market, and whatever else came up, I never got our pumpkin beer dinner together. So in late November I started planning a winter seasonal dinner instead. Just like last time, guests brought a vegetarian dish to share and a beer pairing. Fall and winter seasonal beers were encouraged, and once again our guests rose to the challenge. We had a wonderful dinner with great company and tried a lot of beers that we had never had before.

The great lament of food bloggers this time of year is “where has the light gone?!” It is extremely difficult to get good food photos without natural light, and therefore nearly impossible to get pictures of your dinner this time of year. So I apologize for the dark, fuzzy photos of our dinner party. I promise it’s the lack of light, not the abundance of alcohol, that blurred my photos! Hopefully they give you a good idea of what went down, and if not, I guess you had to be there. I have included descriptions of all our dishes, and I will add links to recipes as I get them.

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We started with a red quinoa, sweet potato, and kale dish made by Brittany of btypes. She brought two big, seasonal beers to share. The one we tried first with the quinoa dish was Delirium Noel. With a hint of apple cider flavor, the Delirium Noel was more reminiscent of fall than winter, which worked very well with fall flavors in Brittany’s delicious dish. It was a great start to our meal!

By the way. . . Please note hiding in the photos above, my bakers twine wrapped beer bottle candle holders, which I “crafted” myself. I am super proud of these because they fit the theme and took a really long time to wrap with twine, so I have to give them a shout out (and me a pat on the back for patience).

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We had two dishes paired with Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, because Adrienne and Al and Kyle and I all decided to use it for our pairing. I guess great minds think drink alike!

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Al and Adrienne from hippie itch made sautéed brussels sprouts with pecans. Based on what Adrienne told me about the recipe, I think it is this one from Cooking Light: Brussels Sprouts with Pecans. I believe she said she substituted water or white wine for the chicken broth. I will update when I find out for sure.

These brussels sprouts were sweet, buttery, and the perfect texture: not too crunchy, not too soft. I have to be honest and say that their dish was a better pairing for the Celebration Ale than mine! They did their research and came up with something that worked really well together. I highly recommend that you try it!

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About this time, we cracked open the Schmaltz Brewing Company He’Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16 16th Anniversary Ale. At 16 percent alcohol by volume, this beer is not messing around. We poured a few ounces for each guest to taste, and then enjoyed watching our friends around the table make faces after the first sip. If you are looking for a beer that is super sweet, very rich and will get you drunk quick, this is the one for you!

(Yes, I am still talking about beer, not men)

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For the main course, I made barbecue jackfruit sliders with vegan cole slaw. I was happy to see that our guests agreed that it looked a lot like pulled pork barbecue. I think that if I hadn’t told them what I had cooked, I might have fooled them into thinking the dinner had taken a carnivorous turn when I brought out the tray of sliders. I think that the subtle spice and pronounced hoppiness of the Celebration Ale complemented the smoky, sweet and spicy barbecue flavor very well. However, in my opinion the pairing couldn’t touch the brussels sprouts one!

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To end it all on a sweet note, Shannon from Thirsty Richmond brought her famous beer cupcakes! Shannon got into baking cupcakes with beer earlier this year and has tried dozens of combinations over the last few months. This was only the second time I had tried her cupcakes, and I was impressed once again. This cupcake was made with Dark Horse Brewing Company’s Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock and topped with a Bailey’s Irish Cream infused cream cheese frosting and a chocolate covered espresso bean. The coffee dopplebock tasted just like an iced coffee drink; it was really unbelievable. I love coffee flavored beers and I have noticed that most of them are very heavy. I liked how this one was pretty light and refreshing. It paired perfectly with the cupcake and was a great ending to a fun night!

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Also on the table and circulating before dinner were New Belgium Snow Day and 21st Amendment Fireside Chat (one of my favorites). We did not pair those with food but enjoyed them nonetheless. So, another successful beer dinner wrapped up. . . do we have to wait until spring for the next one?

Holy Fractal, Batman! Broccoli Romanesco!

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter got a sneak preview this weekend of the latest weird vegetable to cross the threshold of my kitchen. Kyle couldn’t resist picking up this amazing broccoli Romanesco from Walnut Hill Farm Produce at the farmers’ market on Saturday. This fascinating vegetable features a Fibonacci number of spiraled cones on each floret, and its texture approximates a natural fractal. It looks like cauliflower, is technically considered broccoli, and tastes somewhere in between the two. In a good way, promise.

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Since this variety originated in Italy, I knew I wanted to do a pasta dish. When I did a little research online and tasted the vegetable raw, I discovered that it did not need a lot of seasoning in order to shine, so I opted for a very simple dinner.

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How crazy does this thing look?! I broke down this huge head of broccoli into florets, then steamed it for 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, I cooked some farfalle (bow tie pasta) in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drained it and reserved the cooking water in a separate bowl.

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When the broccoli was steamed, I added a couple of thinly sliced cloves of garlic and olive oil. After cooking over medium heat for a few minutes, I added a big bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the pot, along with the juice of one lemon, freshly ground black pepper, a few dashes of Italian herb and spice blend, and a cup of reserved pasta water. After a few minutes, I added the farfalle to the pot, gave it a thorough stir, then added a few teaspoons of capers and salt and pepper to taste. If you don’t want to ruin a good thing, then I recommend that you do nothing else at all to this dish. Except for maybe a sprinkle of crushed red pepper.

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Just enjoy heaping bowls of the steaming hot pasta and you’re all set. Bonus points for a roaring fire, a warm fuzzy blanket, or an oversize glass of wine.