Finding Chili Perfection

In my search for perfecting chili, and using new products, I’ve created yet another version of Black Bean Chili. Chili is like soup, it ca change. And in the world of alternative meat subsitutes, there are new products on the shelves almost every month. One that hit my radar was Helen’s Kitchen. Apparently they’ve been around for awhile, but have finally made it into my area. So what to do with a product that doesn’t work like Lite Life’s smart ground? Make chili.

It’s Spring time, but thats not an excuse to create a hearty, appetizing, spicy, full of flavor stew. One of the other ingredients I’ve started to incorporate is Chayote. Chayote is native to Mexico, and the Sonoran desert. It was a staple int he Aztec diet. And it is becoming one of my favorite vegetables. It has an earthy taste, but once cooked into a food, acts much like a potato.

So this recipe uses many ingredients native to my beloved state of Arizona, and incorporates new food discoveries. I hope you enjoy recreating this Chili as much as I had making it.

Black Bean Chili with Veggie ground


  • 2 tbsp Sunflower oil
  • ½ cup Carrots, diced
  • ½ cup Red onions, diced
  • ¼ cup Poblano chili, diced
  • 2 Jalapeno, diced
  • 1 Serrano, diced
  • ½ cup Green bell pepper, diced
  • ¼ cup Chayote, diced
  • 1 tomatillo, diced
  • 2 tbsp Garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp coriander, ground
  • 1 tbsp cumin, ground
  • ¼ cup Chili powder
  • 1 tbsp Epazote, ground
  • ½ package Helen’s Kitchen Organic Veggie Ground
  • 2 cups black beans
  • Vegetable Stock


In a heavy bottom stock pot, heat up the oil. Add the carrots, onions chili’s, and and bell pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft. Add a little salt. Add in chayote, tomatillo and garlic. Stir and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Pour in the spices, cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Cook until the vegetables and spices combine together. Now put in the veggie ground. Cook until the liquid from the ground is absorbed. Add a bit of stock to keep the ground from sticking to the pan. Then add black beans, and stock to cover. Cover and cook on low for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove from pan and cool down. Serve with Crema, tortillas, and chopped tomatoes and scallions.

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Creamy Polenta Cakes

Polenta in a PotHaving worked in professional kitchens, I’ve picked up a few tricks. One of them is about how to confront cooking certain foods. Polenta is one of those foods. It’s tricky, and it takes a while, and to do it right, you have to be patient. Making Polenta Cakes is a two step process, but the end result is worth waiting for.

Here is the marvelous, vegan version of Creamy Polenta that I’ve been making for years, while locked away, cooking in industrial kitchens.

Creamy Polenta Cakes


  • 1 cup Polenta (Bob’s Red Mill is just fine!)
  • 4 cups Vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp Lime juice, fresh
  • 1 cup Coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp EB Margarine
  • 1 cup Yellow Onion, small dice
  • 1 tbsp Garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup Red Pepper, roasted and diced
  • Daiya Pepperjack “cheese”
  • 3 tbsp Cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sea salt, or to taste


Bring 4 cups of vegetable stock and the lime juice, to a boil. Slowly add in the polenta, while whisking. Keep the temperature at medium high, and whisk until the polenta absorbs the water. This is going to take an absurd amount of time (15 minutes). Keep whisking, and add in the margarine. Keep whisking and add in the coconut milk.

Lower the temperature to medium, and stir in the onion, garlic and roasted red pepper. Keep whisking. Finally, when the polenta is getting a bit stiff, yet tastes creamy and dreamy, add the salt and cilantro, and take it off the fire. Stir in the cheese at the very end. It will melt all on its own.

Pour into a greased sheet pan, and refrigerate overnight. You want to be able to “turn” the polenta out of the pan. Once you do this, cut the polenta into either circles or squares.

Heat up a flat griddle and add a little oil. Sear the polenta cakes so that they color both sides.

Serve as snacks, as part of an entrée, or even a side dish.

You have the option of serving the polenta right out of the pot, without the added step of making cakes. Creamy Polenta will go well with BBQ Seitan, or Portabello Mushroom Steaks. It is fabulous just by itself too!

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies!


Cookie Time!

Yes, we all know, it is pumpkin season here in the U.S., and every blog is exploding with some kind of pumpkin or squash recipe.

So here I am on the bandwagon. I made pumpkin cake a couple of weeks ago, with the last can of pumpkin I had

stashed away. Of course I needed more pumpkin, and one of my favorite grocery stores had pie pumpkins for an insane price. I purchased a few, roasted them off, and pureed them in my trusty food processor. Most of the pumpkin is stashed in the freezer for future use, but I had reserved some, knowing I was going to make cookies, or more cake, or maybe soup.

Here’s what came out. A pretty interesting and lovely pumpkin chocolate chip cookie that is gluten free and vegan!

A few notes about the way I bake:

  • I haven’t jumped onto the Coconut Oil bandwagon. I plan to experiment in the near future, but not yet.
  • I am using Earth Balance Margarine. Everyone says “but margarine is bad for you.” So is butter. So are other oils. I use what I am comfortable with.
  • I use vegan chocolate. A little hard to find in the chocolate chip form. Whole Foods stopped carrying their 365 brand chocolate chips in my market. So I got Sunspire. They are only 42% cacao. I’m working on trying to make my own. Soon.
  • I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour. It’s a great flour, and I find it easier then tracking down all the other flours to mix together.
  • I used this recipe as a base for these cookies. Knowing what I know about baking, I knew I could substitute certain ingredients, and I did.

I made a slight mistake and used one cup of pumpkin instead of a half. The Partner did not like it, the Roommate did. I’m going to try again with the adjusted recipe, and see what the Partner thinks. The goal is a crispier cookie.

Enjoy this recipe. If you experiment, let me know and send me the recipe. I’ll post it on the blog.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: 24 Cookies

Serving Size: 3 ounces


  • ½ cup Earth Balance Margarine
  • ¾ cup Sucanat (alternate sugar)
  • 1 cup fresh pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (Scroll down til you see the Pumpkin Pie Spice recipe)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon Xanthan gum
  • Flax gel - 1 tbsp flax seeds to 2 tbsp warm water, let sit for 10 minutes.
  • 1 cup GF Flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add in the pumpkin, flax eggs, and vanilla.

With the Mixer still running, sprinkle in the pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, powder, and salt. Add in the flour and xanthan gum. Mix just until the dough comes together.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop onto a cookie sheet using a tablespoon. Flatten each cookie with the back side of the spoon.

Bake 10-12 minutes, or until slightly brown.


Serve with your choice of milk or Chai spiced tea.

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Chef Johnna

Come back, I’m still Here!

Consider the ForkI’ve had a bit of a hiatus on this blog. Life and circumstances happened. The details are not important, this is not an apology. It is a post to let folks out there know that I have not abandoned creating recipes, and writing about food. It is a passion of mine, and one I intend to continue pursuing.

So if you are still with me, I am starting to put up new recipes, and will be adding more in depth articles on food knowledge and history. Also the new website look will be up, soon, hopefully before the end of the year. It is an overwhelming task, even for a blog that is my size.

Lately, I’ve been reading Bee Wilson’s “Consider the Fork.” A book about how kitchens evolved, and the implements we use. For me, as a chef, this is such and informative and interesting book. It talks about the evolution of the enclosed oven, the gadgetry that has been invented, and abandoned throughout the centuries, and how electricity plays a large aspect in the everyday freedom we have in kitchens today. I’m fascinated by the information, and the amount of research that went into this book. It is an easy read, Wilson has a conversational tone to her writing. It’s like she’s telling you this story in your living room. If you have any interest in why we don’t play with open fires any more, and when the fork first came into use, read this book.

You can look forward to more mini-book reviews from me, and if you have a book you are writing, and want an opinion, let me know, I’d love to preview more cookbooks, and food history books.

Keep cooking, and keep taking all those tasty pictures.

Lentil, Eggplant and Potato Soup, tastes like Curry

Lentil, Eggplant, and Potato SoupAt the end of the week, I go through the refrigerator and pull out the vegetables that need to be used up. This results in an end of the week soup. This week I had some cooked lentils and a half an eggplant that needed used up. Into the soup it went.

This soup has a deep curry taste, with the bite of ginger, Be careful, if cooked right it can cause a beautiful hum in those who eat it.

Lentil, Eggplant and Potato Soup

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Serving Size: 6 ounces


  • 2 cups cooked Lentils
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • ¼ cup Carrot, small dice
  • 1 Mexican Onion, small dice
  • 1 tbsp Ginger, minced, or grated on a microplane
  • 1 Red Potato, small dice
  • 1 cup Eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tsp Cumin, toasted
  • 1 tsp Coriander
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • ½ tsp Mace
  • ¼ tsp Cayenne pepper
  • 2-3 Curry leaves (Bay leaf is ok if you can’t find curry leaves)
  • 1 cup Vegetable Stock, or water
  • 1/8 cup Tamarind juice, or lemon juice
  • 2 tsp salt, (less or more to your liking)


Prepare all the vegetables.

Heat up a sturdy pot and add the oil. When the oil is hot, saute the carrots, onion, and ginger. When almost translucent, add the cumin, coriander and mace. Stir for another minute or two.

Add water or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Add in eggplant, potato, turmeric, curry leaves and tamarind juice. Cover and cook on simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes and eggplant are tender.

Serve with crackers, or herb bread.

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Mushrooms, and more mushrooms


Quinoa Stuffed MushroomIt’s fall, and in my area that means fresh mushrooms travel from northern areas down to the desert. And the cost comes down just a little bit.

My favorite mushroom is the crimini, also known as a baby bella. It is also an unripened portabello mushroom. This time of year, the criminis are large, and flavorful. I bought some, and scratched my head until I came up with a stuffing, quinoa.

I started with sticky quinoa, chopped some Herbes de Provencale (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, lavender). I made a duxelle, which involved sweating down shallots and the mushroom meat from the stems of the mushrooms. Usually you cook this mixture until it is dry, but I opted to only sweat it down, not cook it til the final stage. I’m not putting it into a pastry, so there’s no fear of ruining a dish by having leaky mushrooms. And I’m not encasing it in parchment paper. I am adding it back into another mushroom. I also left out the lavender and sage.

I mixed everything together, cooked them up in the oven, and served them with roasted asparagus, and vegan whipped potatoes. The next time I’m going to a share food party, I’m taking these little gems. They are bursting with flavor, and will make any diner smile. And a little tip, people who eat them won’t miss the meat or dairy flavor.

Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms


  • 8 Crimini or Baby Bella mushrooms, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup cooked Quinoa
  • Mushroom Duxelle, made from the stems of the mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp Herbes de Provence
  • A handful of Daiya Mozzerela Cheese
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Salt to taste


Clean the mushrooms. Remove the stems, and carefully remove the gills on the underside of the mushrooms. This is a delicate process. Proceed with caution.

Chop the stems up in a mini food processor. Mince 1 shallot. Heat a small saute pan, add sunflower oil. When hot, add in the mushrooms and shallots. Turn heat down and sweat until the mushroom starts oozing its liquid. A traditional duxelle goes beyond this stage, and at a very low heat is cooked to a dry stage. Here, we are keeping it wet.

Remove the duxelle from the heat, and combine with quinoa and Daiya Mozzerella. Add the Herbes De Provencal, lemon juice and salt.

Stuff the mushrooms with this mixture and place on a sheet pan. Cook in a 350 degree oven for approximately 15-17 minutes.

When ready to serve, tuck back into the oven on broil, allowing the top of the mushroom to get a bit crispy. Serve with cilantro pesto, or olive tapanede.

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Pumpkin Puree

Tis the season, pumpkins and trick or treaters. Ghosts and goblins, witches, and Transformers. While the costumers are out hunting candy, I’m tucked indoors cracking open pie pumpkins, or otherwise known as sugar pumpkins, in order to make fresh puree. Then I freeze the puree and use it later for Pumpkin pies, cookies, or what other pumpkiney goodness I can think of.

Here’s how to make pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin Puree


  • 4 or 5 fresh pie pumpkins


Cut open the pumpkins and clean the guts out. This is a messy job, so wear an apron and gloves if you want to. Make sure you have your composter nearby to throw the guts into.

Quarter the pumpkins, place in a shallow pan with water. Cook in the oven at 325 degrees for and hour to an hour and a half, or until the pumpkin flesh starts separating from the skin.

Remove from the oven and cool. Cut off the skin. Place in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Store in 1 gallon bags in the freezer, or if you have a canning system, you can can the puree and save on the shelf.

Use in pies, cakes, cookies, and other goodies..

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Sweet treats for the Holiday Season

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Cake

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin CakeIts pumpkin time, and pie or, sugar pumpkins, are in abundance. Canned pumpkin is readily available for making pies, cookies, cakes and other goodies.

I love cakes. And while cruising around the internet, I found a recipe by Sara Matheny, seen on Every day Dish. I did not have every ingredient listed, so this recipe is modified a little bit. I assure you, it will satisfy the most wicked sweet tooth, as well as the pumpkin lover.

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Cake


    For the Cake
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh Pumpkin Puree
  • 1/4 c. Sunflower oil
  • 1/3 c. Soy Milk
  • 1/2 c. Sucunant
  • 1/2 c. organic sugar
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 3/4 c. oat flour
  • 1/2 c. gluten free all purpose flour
  • 1/2 t. xanthan gum
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ginger
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 t. garam masala
  • For the Icing:
  • 3 T. Earth Balance
  • 1/2 c. vegan (i.e. Tofutti) or organic cream cheese
  • 2 c. organic powdered sugar
  • 1/2 t. vanilla


Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix pumpkin, oil, milk, sugars and vanilla with an electric or stand mixer.

In a separate bowl, combine flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger,nutmeg, and garam masala. Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix until just combined.

Spread batter into an 8×8 baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until set.


Meanwhile, prepare frosting by beating together margarine, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. Frost cooled bars. Store leftover bars in the refrigerator.

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How to cook Black Beans

Black Beans are a staple in our house. They have flavor, and are so very good for you (more so then the pinto bean). Now that I have a crock pot, cooking beans requires less stove watching, leaving more time for writing, and working.

Here’s my basic Black Bean crock pot recipe:

Black Beans from the Crock pot

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 6 cups

Serving Size: 4 ounces


  • 1 1/2 cups Dried Black Beans
  • 4 cups water
  • 2-3 dried Red Chilis, stems and seeds removed
  • 1/2 Yellow Onion, medium dice
  • 3-4 Cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp Cumin powder
  • 2 tsp Coriander
  • 1 tbsp [Epazote|
  • Salt to taste]


Place all ingredients in the crock pot. This method does not involve soaking the beans. Turn the crock pot on low for the first 1/2 hour, then switch to high. Let the beans cook until they are still firm, but easy to chew. This usually takes about 2 hours

Take the beans out of the crock pot and remove the red chilis. Add salt. You can eat them anyway you like. With rice, in a burrito, or as a side dish. Take them to a festive party and watch your friends be amazed at the flavor of the black beans.

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