Cheers

It has been 363 days since my last blog post, and I’ve decided, at this nearing-one-year mark, that I will continue this investment in sharing the recipes and random thoughts I deem internet-ready. There have been several reasons for my absence, all more or less justifiable and unjustifiable, like being too busy or having only rare recipes worth sharing. In evidence of my excuses, it is true that I’ve since searched for and bought a house, moved in a specifically wonderful roommate, endeavored into the endlessly demanding world of DIY projects, began growing a garden (which has just nearly failed but not entirely and not yet), spent every dollar I’ve made at Home Depot (approximately), did enjoy several small to medium-sized vacations, and cooked almost everyday… things that didn’t seem especially notable.

But when I first started this blog, its intention was to share all of those recipes that I made everyday. I preferred posting about recipes that utilized prevalent pantry items, or involved maybe only 2-3 “new” ingredients, or featured a skill that was actually much simpler than it sounded. After all, this was supposed to be about dinner for Brian, and he’s barely 21. So! With that all in mind, here I come, ready to share on a probably-inconsistent-but-hopefully-relevant basis some things I find delicious and easy and interesting and filling. I even have a taste-tester with whom I share at least 60% of my meals, so in consideration of his sign-off, I have twice the sample size to substantiate my confidence.

This recipe I’m sharing not because it’s astoundingly amazing or challenging (in fact, like most drink recipes, it’s more of a recommendation), but because it makes use of my first-grown vegetable from my garden, the jalapeno! I’m taking this hobby as a point of learning and interest rather than successful product yield, because I am as expected not overwhelmingly talented at gardening. These jalapenos and the (possible) 2 tomatoes I hope to harvest may very well be the only products of my once-was 12-vegetable planter bed. But I’ve researched garden tactics and read almost every pertinent page of the farmer’s almanac, so I’m already feeling excited for the fall growing season. I can’t wait until I’m the most expert elderly woman tending to the community garden following my 50+ years of eventual experience with raised planter beds.

Below is the simplest drink ever, that’s so surprisingly spicy it mandates very small frothy sips, followed by the coolly cleansing taste of fresh watermelon. On Monday, Brian’s 21st birthday, I’ll allow him to try (as he has never had alcohol ever. Of course).

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Watermelon Jalapeno Cooler

Makes 1 glass

1 cup watermelon, cubed, frozen

2 oz jalapeno vodka

  • 1 whole jalapeno, sliced
  • 1 cup vodka (I used Tito’s)

Add the watermelon and jalapeno vodka to a blender and blend until frothy and smooth. Drink and enjoy!

Tofu and Vegetable Curry Noodle Bowl

I have a decent number of recipes employing curry powder, and it’s possible I may redundantly continue to add more to the collection in spite of waxing disinterest from the Internet. But, the thing is, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m attempting (really) to save money (aside from the thousands in vet bills… for one worthwhile but really quite demanding dachshund), and curry dishes, comprised occasionally of little more than spices, vegetables, and coconut milk, are so cost-effective. They also happen to be delicious and filling and very well accompanied by Sriracha, my favorite topping. The ratio of effort to result seems to be forever compounding towards infinity as I grow more accustomed to my favorite spice blends and grocery stores offer more varied vegetable medleys at cheaper costs. This is a win-win-win situation for you, the vegetables, and society at large. (I re-watched Season 2 of The Office recently and am recalling now the episode in which Michael takes over Toby’s HR files… if anyone remembers).

It’s the end of summer, albeit astoundingly hot as ever (this is objective, as my friend from Seattle recently visited and deemed the weather somewhere between oppressive and disgusting), yet I’m going to encourage you to make this hot-broth-containing dish. If you’re already sweating, even with your AC intently laboring away, you may as well eat some hot and spicy food. Let’s remove the mirage of feeling cool, ever, until September, yes? (We may have to say October… I don’t want to set anyone up for disappointment). However, as it is the end of summer, feel free to contribute your favorite Farmer’s Market finds to this recipe in place of or in addition to the frozen vegetables listed. I just yesterday purchased something like 3 lbs. of tomatoes and peppers for barely a few dollars, so economy is not a challenge currently. If you’re absolutely swimming in zucchini or squash, those could easily be used to replace or substantiate the noodles in this dish, also, if we’re getting creative.

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Tofu and Vegetable Curry Noodle Bowl

Serves 3-4

1 pack extra firm tofu, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes

3 tbsp. safflower (or other high heat) oil, divided

2 tsp. soy sauce

1/2 package rice noodles, prepared according to instructions

1 package frozen stir-fry vegetables (+ any fresh veggies you’d like!)

1 bunch kale, trimmed and sliced

1 tbsp. garam masala

1 tbsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Dash of red pepper flake

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

1 can of coconut milk

Whisk together 2 tbsp. of safflower oil and the soy sauce. Toss the tofu cubes in the mixture and set aside (may marinate up to overnight). Spread the tofu evenly over a parchment-lined baking sheet and broil for 7-8 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside once cooked.

Prepare the rice noodles according to package directions (usually soaking in boiling water for a few minutes).

In a large pan (preferably with deep sides), saute the frozen vegetables in 1 tbsp. safflower oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the spices and stir to mix evenly. Add the coconut milk and stir. Bring the coconut milk to a low simmer. Add the kale, mix, and cook until slightly wilted, about 3-4 minutes. Add the cooked rice noodles and tofu. Taste and season as appropriate, if more salt is preferred for your taste.

Serve in large, deep bowls, topped with Sriracha, of course. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is a bold but truthful title. I’ll write that sentence without adding, “I think,” or, “in my opinion,” because of course it’s what I think, and you’re reading my blog, so what other opinion should I endorse? Also, I read this article once about how women tend to write with caveats, making their arguments sound more of opinion than fact and, consequently, weaker. I think that’s interesting, because I definitely find it difficult not to write that way. It only seems fair to underscore that I only write from my own perspective, which is of course limited by my little version of reality that may be missing great bounds of information that would otherwise change my mind. But, maybe this is something that should be understood of everyone? Maybe we should always assume opinion of words, not facts, and cross-check our references until we make up our own minds. But, that’s all neither here-nor-there. The point is, I made some very good cookies for my dad when he came to visit.

To me, these cookies are the best because of their height, fluffy centers, chewy yet soft texture, and chunks of chips and nuts. I don’t like thin cookies nearly as much, and I certainly don’t want overly crunchy ones. It seems everyone agrees that a cookie should have a crisp bite followed by a soft middle, and while I share that belief, I am a big proponent of an overly full, overly soft middle. I want the perfect balance of a crumbling to creamy texture inside. And, mostly, I want my cookie to be really big. I’m pretty done with small cookies. They never achieve as much.

These are a derivation of the classic Tollhouse recipe, because, honestly, those are the ones that have always been best received by my cookie tasters (namely, my brothers, friends, and classmates). There are many articles regarding trials between various cookie “bests,” so, by all means, research your favorite techniques. However, in trying a few myself, most I find to be fairly indiscernibly improved. I employ a few little tricks to my cookies, but in truth, a cookie made is better than a cookie conceived. So if extra time stops you from baking, please just make them in the way you find most approachable.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 24-30 cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

2 sticks/ 8 tbsp. butter

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 bag Ghirardelli chocolate chips (or other favorite brand)

1/2 cup pecans and walnuts, chopped

Heat the oven to 385 degrees.

In a stand mixer or large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together until paling and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and stir.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Add the dry mixture to the wet batter on a low mix speed. Mix together until the flour is just absorbed into the batter. Add the chips and nuts and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the dough for 30-60 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop the cookies in 2-3 tbsp. mounds, shaped lightly into balls. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and, after 2-3 minutes cooling in the pan, move to a cooling rack.

Enjoy!

Lemon Coriander Pancakes

In attempt to not apologize for the infrequency of my blogging regimen (again), let’s talk about books.

I am or used to be an avid reader. I remember well completing series after series of children’s books- The Boxcar Children, Babysitter’s Club, Animorphs, Goosebumps, etc. I also recall seeing every episode of Rugrats, and really most Nickelodeon shows, created, so I’ll also make a point of the seemingly endless free time afforded to my childhood. As I got older, books became more complex, profound. Their meaning expanded beyond a simple story: soon, the very characters became references for identity, and the settings became imaginative worlds to which I could draw parallel my own experiences. Favorite books became more important than television, than movies, than soccer practice. I defined myself by introversion, by my ability to sit down and read for hours without fatigue. The books I read and loved were compared and contrasted to the literary lists complied at the beginning of the school year, and I felt some odd sense of shame when I hadn’t yet read a classic “every one else had.” I read through high school, I read through college, I even read voraciously on breaks in graduate school.

So what do I read now?

I’ve belonged to book clubs and made friends of people who love to read equally. I talk at length about the purpose and intention of novels with my brother, who likely now balks at the slow pace of my consumption. A book a month now seems challenging, not for the objective time to complete the reading, but for the procrastination and/ or schedule demanded of the remaining 28 days. I’ve been reading the same book since February, that I argue I enjoy, but will I finish by June? Seeing as it’s May 31, unlikely.

The list of novels and short stories I have set aside to read is growing and growing, and I compel my passion for completing them by my sense of identity that still includes “reader.” In fairness, I read news, blogs, trivial headlines, and biased and purportedly unbiased articles on a daily basis. But with every intention I plan to invigorate anew my love for fiction, in hopes that this phase of my life is one of the only in which novels have demoted their position.

Anyways, here is a great recipe for lemony and herbal pancakes, to mix up your Sunday morning. Maybe you’ll follow the stack with a few enjoyed pages of your favorite book.

Lemon Coriander Pancakes

Serves 3-4

1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 all-purpose, 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground coriander

 

1 large egg, room temperature

2 tbsp. melted butter, slightly cooled

3/4 cup milk

1 lemon, juiced

Zest of 1 lemon

Butter and maple syrup to serve

In a graduated cup measure 3/4 cup of milk, then add the lemon juice and stir. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl stir together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter in a small bowl. Add the egg and whisk together. Add the butter and egg mixture, as well as the lemon zest, to the milk and stir. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Heat a griddle to 350 degrees. Pour out 1/4 cup of batter to make 8-10 pancakes. Cook until small bubbles appear on the surface, then flip (about 2-3 minutes). Cook an additional 2-3 minutes until the center is set.

Plate the pancakes and top with butter and maple syrup. Enjoy!

 

Pho’nomenal Soup

It’s been warm in North Carolina for several weeks, but recently the trees, flowers, and fauna have agreed to come alive and welcome Spring. The collective attitude of this area, the state, probably most of the country is lightened and optimistic, and everything seems fun and exciting. It’s almost hard to sit at home when you see the bright blue skies out of your window and know full well that the sun is warm and the breeze is light and soothing. I’m endlessly thankful that blending into life in Durham has been fluid and inspiring. It’s not without effort that I’ve made this community home, but the effort is easy to succumb when the opportunities are so prevalent. Durham shares features of Chicago that I loved, the primary being that it becomes so vibrant and positive in the warm weather. Everywhere it seems people are out, active, and socializing. Every restaurant and brewery offers the option to dine in the open air, and the myriad trails winding through this area are overflowing with people. It’s so fun to be happy and warm.

The above paragraph does not segue appropriately into the recipe at all. Rather, I’m blogging because I think I’ve exhausted my outdoor experiences for the weekend, and since the sun is setting, I find myself anxious for something new to do besides read quietly or numb to TV. So I’ll use this blog post as a way to believe I’m talking to someone since my dogs insist on napping and not engaging with me at all.

I want to call this recipe pho, because it is, I presume. However, I hesitate to comment on a culinary genre so profoundly outside of my personal experience and, in doing so, cheapen the years of creativity and influence that eventually inspired what is now appreciated as pho. It seems that in becoming a trendy- or at least well-known- food, there are of course a variety of manipulations that may stray egregiously from the original source. But I’ll attempt to throw my recipe into the forum, not to promise authenticity, but to encourage expansion of this beautiful and flavorful dish into even the most benign kitchens. This is truly one of the most straightforward meals I’ve made, with such outrageously delicious results. The ratio of effort to pay-off is trending towards infinity. So I call this soup, with a heavily obvious pun- pho’nomenal-  because it is phenomenal and it, for lack of a better descriptor, is pho!

Vegetarian Pho

Serves 2

(Inspired by this recipe)

Broth

  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 large knob of ginger, cut in half
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix-ins

  • 1/2 block tofu, diced into 0.5 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp. canola, sunflower, safflower, or other high-heat oil
  • 2 bunches bok choy
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 3-5 oz enoki (or other interesting) mushrooms
  • 3 oz rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Sriracha and soy sauce to serve

To prepare the broth, halve the onion and ginger and place in the broiler. Broil until a dark golden color but not quite burnt. Flip and broil the opposite side. Watch carefully- this takes 2-3 minutes per side.

In a large stock pot, add the broiled onion and ginger, lemongrass, and whole spices. (Buyer’s note: I purchased all of these spices from the bulk bin at whole foods for approximately 25 cents… some were so light they were free! So don’t be discouraged by a long list of potentially expenses cabinet-dwellers… just buy what you need!). Add 6 cups of water to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 90 minutes. I actually prepared the broth entirely ahead of time, cooled it, and stored prior to reheating when I was ready with the mix-ins the following night. But, alternately, prepare mix-ins while the broth is simmering. Once an appropriate amount of time has elapsed, strain the broth. It should be a deep, rich brown color. If needed, add a bit more salt.

Prepare the tofu by cubing, tossing with oil, and placing in the broiler for 5 minutes. Toss and continue to broil for 5-7 minutes longer, until lightly browned and crisped on the edges. While the tofu is cooking, prepare the rice noodles. Most packages ask for them to be added to boiling water then sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy, mushrooms, and sliced jalapenos to the bowls. Once the tofu is done, add that as well. Top with the rice noodles.

To serve this in a pretty way, present the bowls with mix-ins then pour the steaming broth over the top. (My photos look a little low on broth, and that’s because I split it into 3 servings so I could get more food out of it [still living cheap], but this would be more substantial/ characteristic of massive pho bowls just split into 2 servings). Top with as much sriracha as you dare, as well as a splash of soy sauce. Serve with large spoon and chopsticks!

Red Beans, Collard Greens, and Rice

I’m anticipating sharing another recipe soon, but in true delayed blogger fashion, I’m insisting I post this older one before I can move on to other exciting topics.

I’m currently living in a tight budget state, where I am imposing upon myself unachievable standards of limited spending, in attempt to save money to buy a home in the nearish future. I accounted for all of the forms of my significant and menial expenses (and in the process, realized there are many of both), and I assigned semi-arbitrary, somewhat-educated values to each budget. Groceries were the first to whittle down, as I know I’m equally capable of living on $50 a week at Trader Joe’s… or dropping $100 at Whole Foods on two recipes I want to try. As someone who enjoys cooking, insisting on the former can be difficult. But, with coupons and really serious, actually-follow-this planning, it’s been going ok. I’m not totally succeeding, but not all is lost in trying. In any case, foods that are cheap and delicious have been inclusive of the following: anything from a bulk bin, mostly; international foods of international and off-brand origin; vegetables in season; fruits that are truly American and not at all fun; greens by the bucketload; and, for protein, yogurt and eggs. I am trying to bulk up meals with greens, as variety is the cost of life, it seems. I’ve probably out-kaled myself on this blog (not really actually in real life), so in attempt to try new things, I’ve expanded my palate into traditional Southern fare, like collard greens.

I’ve always imagined collard greens to be wiltingly acidic and laden with some sort of pseudo-umami, greasy bacon flavor. The pile of leaves at every barbecue restaurant is at best forlorn and at worst, gray and molted. To say I had low expectations is an understatement. But, as is probably true of all vegetables, it turns out that if you don’t cook collard greens to their bitter death, they’re actually very palatable and quite achievably delicious. They are subtly bitter but enjoyably verdant, not very unlike kale. (And yes, verdant is a descriptor of color, but it seems even words are on a limited budget for me currently). What the collard greens do best, I’d say, is contrast an otherwise mushy plate of carbohydrates, that, although delicious, leaves much texturally to be desired.

Red beans and rice is a classic creole recipe that I frankly had given no time to prior to this point. It seemed, as per everything above, as though it could be distinctly underwhelming. When I’m being cheap for lunch, I’ll often throw together a mix of black beans, rice, and avocado, which tastes definitely no more than the sum of its parts, and serves only as a whispy attempt at indulgent Mexican food during an otherwise lackluster workday. I ascribed the same hope to red beans and rice, and yet somehow, this dish truly transcends.

Maybe it’s that I used dried beans to start, simmering them for hours with spices and vegetables, allowing for flavors to deeply develop. Maybe it’s some magic pairing that those of creole heritage revolutionized to the disinterest of other colonies. Maybe it’s just better when you’re hungry, and you’ve decided you’re not eating meat that week. Regardless of rationale, this recipe (while not entirely following tradition) is vegetarian, easily made vegan, absurdly simple, primarily hands off, and probably a total of $3 all around. I had to freeze half after portioning out 4 servings, so as far as economy goes, this is a good choice.

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Red Beans, Collard Greens, and Rice

Serves 8

Red beans:

  • 1 lb. bag dried red beans
  • 2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. barbecue sauce of choice (I used Trader Joe’s garlic sriracha)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Collard greens:

  • 2 large bunches collard greens, sliced into strips
  • 1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Brown rice, cooked, as much as you want considering how many you’re serving (6-8 cups)

Starting about 8 hours prior to cooking, rinse the dried beans in a colander, and, supposedly, check for rocks (which seems absurd). Add the beans to a large bowl and cover with 8 cups of water. Leave the beans soaking overnight/ during the day prior to preparing this recipe.

After 8 hours or overnight, drain the beans. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the diced vegetables and sauté until lightly browning, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the spices, salt, and barbecue sauce and stir. Add the red beans to the pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, mashing up some beans as you’re able. Taste and season.

In a separate fairly large pan, melt the butter for the collard greens. Add the collard greens to the butter and sauté until wilting, about 10-15 minutes, over medium-low heat. Season sparingly as the greens will wilt down to a smaller volume.

Prepare the brown rice according to preference and/ or package directions. Season to taste.

In a bowl, layer the brown rice, collard greens, and red beans. Enjoy, probably all week!

Spicy Shrimp Sushi Bowl

Oscar is 10 years old! The last day in February- not the leap year- Oscar became an official elderly citizen. In human years, he now qualifies for the AARP and Medicare. He’s graying, balding, slowing, and becoming increasingly grumpy and stubborn. He’s really mastering aging in just the most appropriate and enjoyable fashion. This year, he celebrated by going on a walk that was too long and relishing in a anxiety-free day in which I never left the apartment without him. I wonder if he misses the birthday cakes of his younger years… Maybe; maybe not.

I won’t dilute this dog-centric celebration with other news of my weekend, even though I am actually very much loving living in Durham and excited to experience and share more of it. For now, I’ll settle with birthday news and a recipe.

Have you seen sushi bowls on the Internet? I’m not entirely sure to what degree the Internet influenced my interest in creating this recipe, but for one reason or another, I couldn’t wait to try making it. I know making actual sushi is outside of my culinary capacity at this time (namely because I lack the appropriate tools), but a sushi bowl is straight-forward and still inclusive of my favorite sushi flavors. I went with spicy shrimp as it’s one of my favorite rolls, and it’s distinctly lacking the risky manipulation of raw fish. I simply layered in the complimentary vegetables, found some sushi rice (again) in my neighborhood bulk bins, and went for it. And it was so easy! And so delicious! I recently (yesterday) purchased a microwave, but I like that this would be easily served hot or cold (if you, like me, struggle with leftovers). It actually may be better cold, and I’ll probably try tomorrow. The varieties here are endless, and I’m kicking myself for not buying some nori to add, so definitely give this version or another a try.

Spicy Shrimp Sushi Bowl

Serves 4

Adapted from wholefoods.com

1 cup short-grain sushi rice

2 1/4 cups water

2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

1/2 tbsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 lb raw, peeled and deveined shrimp

1 tbsp. safflower (or other neutral, high-heat) oil

1 tbsp. sriracha

1 tbsp. Greek yogurt

1 cucumber, sliced thinly

1 large avocado, diced

1/4 cup soy sauce

In a medium pot, heat the water to boiling. Lower to a simmer, add the rice, cover, and cook for approximately 15 minutes, until the rice is soft and cooked through. In a microwave safe bowl, microwave the vinegar until heated but not exploding in your microwave (like 20 seconds). Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve. Add the cooked rice and set aside.

In a large cast-iron skillet, add the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté for 3-4 minutes on each side, until opaque and cooked through. In a medium bowl, stir together the Greek yogurt and sriracha. Add the shrimp and toss together.

In a serving bowl, layer the sushi rice, sliced cucumber, diced avocado, and spicy shrimp. Top with a drizzle of soy sauce. Dig around for some extra chopsticks (or a fork if you’ve recently moved and aren’t stocked with take-out commodities) and enjoy!

Hello, and Risotto Primavera

I seem to have entirely neglected, if not per perception left entirely, this website. And, truly, the perception was my own, as I had decided, in moderate intention, to stop posting and let my recipes slowly fade into the infinity of the Cloud. But as everyone in my life knows, I finally moved from Chicago to North Carolina. Durham, more specifically. And in leaving, I was interested again in keeping this up, bolstered as well by the encouragement of several friends. So the blog will be resurrected from its really-dusty-kitchen, dishes-haven’t-been-done-in-weeks level disregard. And it seems I’ll need to change my subtitle.

I was told from some people that possibly this should no longer be titled “Dinner for Brian,” as the motivation for the title originally- that I was posting recipes in Chicago for my brother to try at home- is now less substantiated. If I want, I can go see Brian on any weeknight, make him dinner (or go out together), and receive immediate feedback. The internet no longer is a necessary medium. But, if I’m being honest, I mostly like the idea of cooking for a tangible (if now much more available) person. Yes, I usually eat alone. And yes, these recipes are often to serve my palate more than my lovely ginger brother’s. But I do take credit for expanding significantly his culinary horizons, and it’s still with his review in mind that I write. (Not to diminish the influences of my other brothers, who are easily as important and definitely more interesting than I am).

The real reason I’m posting tonight, as opposed to a lazy Sunday (my usual date), is because romanesco broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods today, and it looks so super cool, and I wanted to use it. And then, in doing so, I was thinking that everyone I know needs to cook with romanesco broccoli- mostly for the fun shape- and I must provide a recipe. Also, this is really, very delicious, and it is also incredibly easy to put together. I had never made risotto with actual arborio rice before, always favoring risotto from barley (also, where would I find arborio rice?). But in an attempt to have really quite pretty jars full of grains to hide in my cabinets (in the ideal of someday having this beautiful kitchen with open and exposed shelving), I bought a bunch of grains from my neighborhood co-op, and at that time I found arborio rice sneaking among the quinoa. I determined it must be tried.

Well, this has been a lengthy composition… Here’s the recipe.

Risotto Primavera

Serves 2

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, diced finely

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 head romanesco broccoli, chopped into small florets

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan

Salt & pepper

Basil, sliced, to serve

Heat the stock in a small quart pan until just boiling. Lower to low heat and keep warm.

In a larger pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and mix. Add the broccoli. Season lightly. Add 2-3 ladle-fulls of stock to the pan (it will simmer and deglaze slightly). Stir and stir until the rice has absorbed most of the stock. (It’s not ridiculous, you can take breaks from stirring; just don’t leave it for a long period of time). Add another ladle or two of stock. Stir. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. You may not use all of your stock. Once the rice is cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, add the peas, corn, and Parmesan. Stir to combine well. Taste and season again.

Serve and top with fresh basil. Admire the pretty broccoli. And eat!

Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

I left August 29, and I’ve finally returned. I’ve seen Kenya- the Masai Mara, Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach- hiked in New Hampshire and dined in Boston, battled sandflies in Michigan, worked in Atlanta, celebrated weddings in North Carolina, biked Orange County, waved at seals in La Jolla, and shopped in Los Angeles. Two months, and more travel than I could possibly squeeze into a (relatively) functioning work schedule, and I wait on the edge of my seat to finally settle down and relax in Chicago. It’s the right moment, see, because while the dog days of summer and picturesque, perfect days of early fall are tantalizingly beautiful along the Chicago lakefront, they are also days of activity and adventure. You can’t slow down; I won’t slow down; not until the leaves fall. So here it is, the first day I could smell the crispness to the air, the undefinable quality that forebodes the dropping temperatures and the consequently required heavy jackets. After four years in and outside this city, it feels almost comforting to notice this change. While Chicago thrives in the summer, at its heart, it is a winter city. Many may argue against that, but genuinely, those who live here endure and make magic of these (truly) 8 months of cold weather. So much so, that it only feels right, somewhat like a homecoming, to be back among the chilly air and more brusque breezes. No one will admit to liking it; far from it. I’d rather perpetual September and October for the rest of time. But it is calming, to be on this side of things. I’m ready to slow down, embrace it, and warm up by the artificial dry heat of my antiquated radiators. This is made significantly better by a pumpkin-clove candle from Anthropologie, which is the best smelling thing to ever enter my apartment. All I need now is the return of my dachshunds.

I had intended on sharing a recipe for sweet potato ramen in a curried broth, which was excellent, innovative, and aesthetic. But, somehow, I threw out the recipe. Usually I remember a recipe well enough, but I can’t be certain in this one, and it’s worth doing right. I’ll have to repeat the process (possibly not burn my hands on the soft boiled egg next time), and share in the coming months. What I’m sharing today is, quite obviously, a remnant from my weeks doing Whole 30. The biggest problem with Whole 30 is going to Kenya immediately afterward and forgetting all of it. Problem? Maybe that’s the best thing to do. Regardless, I did eat well during that challenge, from a health and flavor standpoint, and some recipes bear posting, even outside of my current dietary restraints (of which I have none). So, without further ado, a very delicious, albeit distinctly summery, dinner.

shrimp and plantains

Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

Serves 4

  • 1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tossed in the juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flake
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 2 plantains, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. ghee
  • 2 avocado, diced
  • 2 mango, diced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt & pepper

In a mixing bowl, toss together the avocado, mango, shallot, and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp and season with the spices above. Turn after 2-3 minutes, once the bottom side is appearing lightly pink and opaque. Cook another 2-3 minutes and remove from the pan.

In the same sauté pan, add 2 tbsp ghee over medium high heat. Add the plantains and toast for 2-4 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and cooked the alternative side. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan.

Plate the shrimp and plantains with a side of the mango avocado salsa. Enjoy!

Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

I’m back from a weekend camping at the Dunes in Indiana, which was a lovely way to start to ease out of summer. We hiked up through mountains of sand, sliding backwards, dogs trailing behind. We somehow couldn’t really keep a fire going, but it was lively long enough to roast hot dogs and make breakfast in the morning. I might not have slept at all on a pile of blankets in the tent, but having returned, I think I’m refreshed all the same. Or, at least my dachshunds are really, really worn out. I’d love to know how many miniature leg steps they logged on that 4 mile dunes walk. There’s probably an interesting niche market for dog pedometers.

While camping, I cooked eggs in a sauté pan over the fire. I sat the pan on a set of logs, probably a bit unstably, but successfully made breakfast all the same. I’m thinking I need a cast-iron skillet camp set for next time, as the bottom of my eggs got a bit burned before it was cooked through. Someday I will be an expert camper. Until then, I use my skillet at home.

This dinner is delicious, easy, and truly different than most things I make. Figs are in season, and I love them, so I bought a large flat a week or so ago. I’d been snacking on them, dipping them in almond butter, but roasting them was another method I hadn’t tried. Chicken thighs, I think, are the best partner for the figs, as they are deeply flavorful and tender. And caramelized onions just always belong. I served this atop a green salad with some mashed potatoes, but any way would be fine. Maybe I am a bit tired… I can’t seem to think of much else to say. Just, make dinner, ok?

Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

Serves 4-6

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

4 tbsp. olive oil, divided

2 yellow onions, sliced into half-moons

8-10 fresh black figs, quartered

Salt & pepper, to taste

Prepare the marinade for the chicken by mixing 2 tbsp. olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Coat the chicken in the marinade, flipping to coat. Marinate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When prepared to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to a cast-iron skillet set over medium-low heat. Caramelize the onions, slowly, stirring occasionally. They will slowly brown and soften in about 20-30 minutes. Once they’ve caramelized, remove the onions from the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken thighs. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until browned, then flip. Once flipped, add the caramelized onions to the pan, lying over the chicken. Add the figs.

Put the cast-iron skillet into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the thighs are cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve.