Taco Chili {Gluten Free & Vegan Friendly}

Enjoy all the flavors of a tasty taco and the convenience of a bowl of chili!

Enjoy all the flavors of a tasty taco and the convenience of a bowl of chili!

Regular readers of the blog are probably starting to notice some trends in the food I make.  One, I like food with a Mexican flair, as evidenced by my taco casserole, quinoa enchilada soup, and lentil tacos.  Two, I favor meals that can be prepped in one pot and serve as a stand alone dish, like my bean and lentil chili and sweet potato and chickpea curry.  This week, I decided to combine these concepts: I give you taco chili.

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Italian Herb Popcorn {Gluten Free & Vegan}

This Italian Herb Popcorn is a nice twist on your traditional butter topping and just as addictive

This Italian Herb Popcorn is a nice twist on your traditional butter topping and just as addictive

The countdown is officially on for Sunday.  Our menu is set, our shopping list is written up, and we’re ready to gorge ourselves while watching commercials and Katy Perry cheer on the Patriots.  It took a while to get to this point, though.  You see, when I was going over the menu the other day, I realized we had nothing munchy.  You know, something crunchy that you can eat by the handful.  Sure potato chips or pretzels would have sufficed, but I’m into something a little bit more elegant than that (yes, even for a football game).  Thus, we’ll be having this Italian Herb Popcorn.

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Quinoa Enchilada Soup: Gluten Free & Vegan

Black beans, corn, and quinoa mingle together for a bowl full of Mexi-happiness!

Black beans, corn, and quinoa mingle together for a bowl full of Mexi-happiness!

Recently, I was watching the Rachael Ray show, and they were making chicken noodle soup.  Only instead of noodles, they used quinoa.  As a girl who loves quinoa, I thought this was a brilliant idea!  Only to me, it seemed a tad redundant.  One of the beauties of quinoa is the fact that it’s a complete protein all on it’s own.  No need for meat!  So, I knew from the get-go that I was going to take this quinoa-based soup idea and revamp it.  And, boy am I glad I did.

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Pantry Raiding Corn Chowder: Gluten Free & Vegan

Corn chowder, made from ingredients you probably have in your kitchen already!

Corn chowder, made from ingredients you probably have in your kitchen already!

I don’t know about you guys, but my life is starting to get hectic.  I mean I absolutely love Christmas, but as we enter the last week of preparations, life is getting a little bit busy.  Between shopping and wrapping and baking and figuring out our celebrating schedules, time has become a somewhat precious commodity.  And with time at a premium, something has had to give; for us, that has meant food shopping.  Yet, while trips to the food store may not be happening, eating is still a necessity.  So, I’ve been doing a lot of pantry raiding in an attempt to keep us fed.

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M is for Malawi: Nsima & Ndiwo (Polenta Cakes with Wilted Kale)

Nsima & Ndiwo.  It sounds really exotic, but in more common terms it's polenta cakes with wilted kale.  Gluten free and vegan goodness.

Nsima & Ndiwo. It sounds really exotic, but in more common terms it’s polenta cakes with wilted kale. Gluten free and vegan goodness.

I know I’m in for a rough Cooking Around the World when I can’t instinctively place the country on the globe.  That was the case for Malawi.  I mean, I narrowed it down to either the South Pacific or Africa, but I really wasn’t sure which.  Turns out it’s Africa.  Who knew?

Anyway, this was by far one of the more difficult countries to research.  While there is information on the country itself, facts about their cuisine were few and far between.  From what I could find, the bulk of their meals are the same: nsima and ndiwo.  For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they eat cornmeal/maize (nsima) with some sort of relish (ndiwo).  The hot nsima is placed on a cold dish, which solidifies it.  The ndiwo is then placed on top, and the entire thing is eaten by hand.

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Balsamic Herbed Pork with Cheesy Polenta

Herbed Balsamic Pork with Cheesy Polenta

On this blog, you see a lot of what I cook.  When I was looking through my posts, though, I noticed something.  I had yet to post some of my most common, go to, simple types of meals.  Bowls of pasta and dinners consisting of meat and potatoes are, in fact, relatively common in our kitchen.  I guess I feel like these standard dishes aren’t “blog worthy.”  But I’m guessing that, like me, you’re not eating crazy-creative, brand new meals every night of the week.  Sometimes, plain old good cooking is enough.

This is one of those types of meals.  It is super simple and comes together in less than half an hour.  Yet, this is a step up from the storied pork chops and apple sauce.  The polenta is a novel side dish, providing a quick and cheap alternative to potatoes or rice.  The cheese gives it just enough salt, and it’s very creamy having been cooked in milk.  As for the pork, the balsamic reduction is sweet and makes the meat flavorful and moist.  Like I said, this meal isn’t the most exciting thing you’ll see on the internet, but it’s absolutely delicious.  And, for me, that’s good enough.

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A Fiesta in a Bowl

Taco Casserole

When I first met my husband, he was a picky eater.  Seriously.  At the dining hall, he would eat burgers, fries, and pizza.  And cookies and ice cream, of course.  Every once in a while he would get crazy and throw shredded cheese on some chips, put it in the microwave, and call it nachos.  But other than that, he was strictly on the plain-foods diet.  Slowly, his tastes started to expand.  He’d come to my apartment and I’d force him to eat vegetables as a side dish even when I cooked with peppers and onions in the main dish.  I forced my heat-wuss start to acclimate to flavors like buffalo sauce and jalapenos.  It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

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D is for Dominican Republic: Pastelón de Harina de Maíz

Hot, bubbly beef and cornmeal casserole

Hot, bubbly beef and cornmeal casserole

When I pulled the Dominican Republic for the letter D, I was pretty excited.  Finally, we were at least swapping hemispheres!  It would be like a mini Caribbean vacation in my kitchen (sans the gorgeous beaches, girly boat drinks, and bikinis)!  Ok, so it wouldn’t be exactly like a Caribbean vacation, but c’est la vie.

Anyway, Google searches yielded a ton of information about Dominican cuisine.  With African, Spanish, and indigenous influences, Dominican food tends to feature hearty, inexpensive dishes.  And with cold weather slowly creeping into our region and my budget refusing to expand, these are attributes I can certainly get behind.

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