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!

312 Chili

312. Like, the area code. No, actually, like the delicious wheat ale from Chicago’s local Goose Island Brewery. That’s right: beer is in this chili. This isn’t anything earth shattering; people have been putting beer in chili for awhile now. In fact, there’s probably not much that hasn’t been in chili, you know? Like, maybe wine? But it’s probably been done. Anyways, beer in chili is new for me. And I must say, I probably won’t go back. It adds this sort of subtle hoppy hint at the end of each bite that rounds out the spicy, vegetable-heavy flavor. It’s kind of like sipping a beer with your chili, but not nearly as strong, and without the intoxicating side effects. (The alcohol is mostly cooked off).

I love that chili is a total grab-bag. I had a sweet potato to use, so in the chili it went. I wanted lots of vegetables to bulk it up, so I chopped up several cups and sautéed away. Heaping spoonful of minced garlic? Of course. Spicy diced tomatoes, any variety of bean you favor… all of it goes in. The best part is that all of it goes in the crock pot. Which anyone will tell you is the answer to your dinner prayers. It magically both requires less work and imparts more flavor. And now that I boldly italicized crock pot, I can’t stop thinking that it’s a very, borderline inappropriate sounding word. It’s probably an insult if used correctly. Anyways, what I’m offering up today (after much delay and anticipation, I’m sure), is beer. in your chili. in your crock pot. waiting for you for dinner when you come home. I know; what a comeback.

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312 Chili

Serves 6

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 carrot, diced

Several cloves of garlic, minced (or used the pre-minced garlic, which has revolutionized my life)

1/4 lb. grass-fed ground beef (amp it up or ignore it all-together, I just had some in my freezer)

2 tbsp. smoked paprika

2 tsp. cumin

1 1/4 tsp. oregano

1 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. cayenne*

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste

1/2 bottle of 312 (or other beer that you like, I guess)

1-2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 15 oz. can kidney beans

1 15 oz. can black beans

2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes (I did one fire roasted with green chiles, one plain)

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

In a large sauté pan*, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, peppers, and carrots and sauté until translucent and softened, about 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir, cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add the ground beef if using and cook until browned. Mix together the spices in a small bowl and add to the vegetable mixture. Stir to coat evenly. Add the can of tomato paste and mix thoroughly, cooking for about 3 minutes or so until well combined. Deglaze the pan with half a bottle of 312 (or other beer, fine. and drink the rest). Allow the beer to boil and reduce for about 5 minutes.

In a large crock pot, add the diced sweet potato, both cans of beans, the cans of diced tomatoes, and the tomato sauce. To this mixture, add the sautéed vegetables. Stir thoroughly. Cook the chili on low for 6-8 hours.

My favorite toppings include diced avocado, cheese, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream), and, of course, crackers. Nothing like saltines in chili, for some reason.

Delicious, easy, warm food for an entire week (or I guess for a large-ish family). So glad it’s time for chili again.

*You’ll notice I didn’t include chili powder. Well, I didn’t have any (and also couldn’t find any at Trader Joe’s where I was shopping… who stops at 2 stores?). But! I found this handy guide for how to make your own. And I found the chili, in result, to be even more flavorful this way. Maybe it’s the smoked paprika?

*Eh hem. I’m sure there are raised eyebrows at my offered crock pot recipe that involves using a sauté pan. But hear me out. Sautéed vegetables are 100 times better in this recipe, and the browning earned from the cooked tomato paste and deglazing with beer is well, well worth the marginal effort. I mean it’s seriously 15 minutes at the stove for a tremendous result. You have 15 minutes. The crock pot does the rest.

Best Ever Mac and Cheese

Sometimes the best meals are made impromptu, completely unplanned, on a hungry whim before a technologically-inept appliance. You grab noodles- the remainder of a folded and torn cellophane bag packed and moved from one home to another for this exact purpose. The whole bag gets dumped into a pot brimming with salted boiling water, because noodles are thirsty and you are hungry and time is of the essence here. A second pan is devoted to saucing this carbohydrate platter, but of what ingredient and what influence? Cheese, of course. You grab cheese, because you definitely don’t have tomato sauce, and you beyond a doubt don’t have the ingredients to make tomato sauce. Cheese- a Mexican blend, it turns out; half an onion; seasonings, why not?; the flour, the milk. It whisks together and the pasta finishes boiling. Approximately eleven minutes have passed. Something healthy, something healthy… you ponder. Ah, a bed of spinach. It’s moderately wilted, insistently structuring its cells with a dehydrating buoyancy, but serves the purpose of “vegetables” all the same. You add the pasta to the sauce, aggressively coating and stirring to achieve that drenching effect. Pasta is haphazardly strewn across spinach leaves, which defeatedly wither on contact, and the plate is dropped against the dinner table. Sit down, fork in hand, breathe once. And suddenly- the best ever mac and cheese to ever grace your lips. Is it hunger? Who knows. But the whirlwind memory stays in flashes; ingredients are marked duly in your brain. You’ll need to make this again.

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Best Ever Mac and Cheese

Serves 1 super hungry person, probably 2-3 reasonable people

3/4 cup whole wheat penne (or macaroni if you’re a traditionalist or otherwise prepared)

1 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1 tbsp. smoked paprika

Salt & pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. flour

3/4 cup milk, anything but skim

1/3 cup shredded cheese (I used a mexican blend from Trader Joe’s)

Spinach to serve

In a large pot of salted boiling water, add the noodles. Cook according to package directions, maybe just shy of their instruction (9.5 minutes instead of 10). Strain the noodles and set aside (ideally for minimal minutes).

Sauté the diced onion in the butter over medium low heat for 10 minutes, until softening and translucent. Add the paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir in the 3 tbsp. of flour until fully incorporated with the butter, forming a thick paste. Whisk in 3/4 cup of milk and bring to a boil over the same low temperature. Continue whisking until a thick sauce forms, almost the consistency of nacho cheese from a terrible baseball game. Add in the cheese and whisk to combine. The sauce will be quite thick, but consequently very adherent to the noodles.

Add the pasta to the cheese sauce. Stir and stir and toss until the noodles are adequately and evenly coated. Serve atop a bed of spinach.

Die.

Well, that’s morbid. But, it’d be ok. Because you’ve had the best ever mac and cheese.

Summer Squash and Potato Gratin

I’m mostly settled into my new apartment after an incredibly effortful weekend of plans and rearrangements and finishing touches. I’m actually sore, which is really embarrassing, and speaks to my otherwise level of inactivity for the past few weeks. My grandparents were here this weekend to help me finalize some things, namely things involving a drill and furniture building. And excitingly, my grandma, in her perfectly grandmotherly ways, brought me an entire picnic basket of fresh vegetables from her and her brothers’ gardens. Squash, zucchini, potatoes, green beans, beautiful tomatoes all rested comfortably together, simply begging for some preparation and timely enjoyment.

On Saturday night, around 7pm, in a hunger-driven panic between Ikea trips and unloading of said Ikea trips and putting together of said Ikea products, I scarfed down half a slice of leftover pizza and a few cookies my grandma had also brought me. I ate said dinner in approximately 3 minutes, while refilling my silverware drawer, and, following this ingestion, realized I thankfully was no longer hungry, so I went upon my way. As things go, my house became a swarm of cardboard and cellophane before becoming marginally more cohesive. Around 11pm I fainted onto my (thankfully) put together daybed, recognized that I was famished, ate some Pringles leftover from last weekend’s bachlorette party, and went to bed.  Needless to say, my first “meals” in this apartment have not been very notable. Or admirable. Or even really food.

Today, I eased into the morning with a nice walk, some reading, coffee, and breakfast. A leisure I haven’t taken in way, way too long. Afternoon involved some more apartment work for a few hours, followed by some cleaning, but today I was going to be put together. Or, at least not eat Pringles for dinner. The vegetables stared at me, quietly reminding me that produce is really only “fresh” for so long. I whipped up a zucchini bread during afternoon projects, which turned out deliciously. However, I for the second time witnessed my oven cooking at clearly far too low a temperature, for while the bread was cooked through to the tip of the toothpick I stabbed it with, a quarter inch of batter-becoming-bread thwarted my product. In plans for dinner, I questioned that I was using the oven again at all. Completely archaic, without a clock, timer, or evidence that digital technology had actually been established at the time of its construction, I could indeed verify it lit and made the oven warm, but I could not know at all at which temperature it was cooking. Given this was my third attempt, I ramped up the temperature even further above recommendation, and, amazingly, dinner turned out beautifully. (Also idiotic, I spent at least 2 hours of today with the oven on, in summer, in an apartment without air conditioning. I’ve been lightly sweating (or profusely so) for 48 hours).

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Breakfast of my dreams: toast with garden tomatoes and over easy eggs, side of French press coffee

So, what did I make? Well, to use in a timely fashion the bountiful summer produce my grandma had provided, I found a recipe for a gratin comprised of summer squash and potatoes. I figured adding a few extra squash would only improve upon the product, and I followed the recipe nearly exactly, exchanging some of the methods here and there to suit my new kitchen. I had no intention of blogging about the final result, because I was moderately convinced I’d retrieve from the oven a soggy, undercooked mess of vegetables. But, as you can clearly tell, it was a huge success! These pictures don’t do justice to the absolute delicious nature of this dish. I already plan to serve this at Thanksgiving, bring it to book club, and somehow offer it to everyone I know. Really. And, better, everything in here is peak-season-perfect. Please, please make this (mom, it’s right up your alley). And for any goat cheese haters (you’re absurd), you could substitute another cheese if you wish.

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Summer Squash and Potato Gratin

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 6… I guess (serves me tops 4 times)

2 medium zucchini

2 medium yellow crookneck squash

1 medium yellow squash

3 medium red potatoes

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. freshly-cracked pepper

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 oz. goat cheese

1/3 cup milk, anything but skim

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (or 425 if you have an ancient oven).

Wash and dry your vegetables thorougly. Start by slicing the potatoes very thinly, about 1/4 – 1/8 inch thickness, taking time to make sure the slices are even. Add the sliced potatoes to a pot of salted water (I add about a 1/2 teaspoon). Bring the water to a boil and boil the potatoes for about 2 minutes, so that they are still firm. Drain the potatoes and add to a large bowl.

Continue slicing the remaining squash (you can use any combination of varieties; this is just what I had on hand) into thin, 1/4 – 1/8 inch thin slices. If you have a mandolin, that’d be great (I don’t). Add the sliced vegetables to the same large bowl. Pour 4 tbsp. olive oil over the vegetables as well as the salt, pepper, and thyme. Gently toss the vegetables to coat (some may break apart a bit, which is fine).

Lightly grease a large, 9 x 13 baking dish with olive oil, and add 1/3 of the vegetable mixture to the dish. Crumble half the goat cheese over the bottom layer of vegetables. Add another 1/3 of the mixture, and, again, top with the remaining goat cheese. Add the final layer of vegetables. Pour the milk evenly over the entire mixture. Sprinkle the top of the vegetables with Parmesan. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven.

Bake the dish at 400 degrees Fahrenheit covered for 30-35 minutes. Afterwards, remove the foil and increase the temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the Parmesan cheese top is bubbling and brown. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.

To serve, slice out a portion of the gratin (it slices fairly easily, although will slide around some). Sprinkle torn or chiffonade basil over the top. Wait 2 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth, then dig in.

Longest post ever. Worth it.

Summer Frittata

Well, it happened. I moved. I moved and I threw wedding parties and I rode my (used-but-new, totally awesome) bike and I tried to go to bed on time (and failed). I moved, and I’m tired. I’m anticipating some sort of settling in moment that hasn’t quite happened yet, and I’m still peering out windows wondering when my roommate will come home (how strange to live alone again). I get home from work and the night is entirely my own, and my mind races with the lack of evening structure. Where are my friends, steps or blocks away, texting or calling or just being known in the skyline in the distance? Where is my dog, bothering me and napping on my couch? What is demanded of me here, in this completely new city, not at all far from where I once lived, but entirely unknown just the same? Where is the bike path, the best place to run, the most convenient grocery store? I come home, and I enjoy the HBO and Internet access I made sure to install promptly, and then I forget that I can do whatever I want. I guess I do, in that I stay still, and try to create calm. But then I don’t, in that I lost the bursting-but-fleeting productivity that inspired me to unpack my apartment and now just sit among the final boxes on a mattress on the floor. I feel decidedly unsettled, I’d counter.

So in attempt to control my time, I post again. A recipe I ate ages ago, back in my old kitchen. I suppose soon enough a recipe will come here from the new one (I actually already have one to be shared), but, for now: the remaining moments of my Chicago (genuinely Chicago) summer. I made this frittata for an easy night of cooking, and also as a means to eat more vegetables. I eat breakfast incredibly early, at a time at which most people don’t have an appetite. But it’s now or never, and sweets become heavy and unappetizing when eaten day after day (breakfast sweets, that is). So I intended to create a savory recipe I could reheat and eat quickly, which, when lacking the flour to create a quiche crust, becomes a frittata. (Strange side: my new apartment lacks a microwave, and I’ve missed it thrice already). This frittata wrangles up the varying summer produce with a delicious eggy binder, and it tastes fresh and savory and warm all at once. I included a recent Trader Joe’s find: mediterranean feta. It’s feta cheese, but better, including a few herbs and spices that complement well the flavors of this recipe. Obviously, a plain feta or even goat cheese would pair well here also, but if you find this ingredient, it’s worth including.

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Summer Frittata

Serves 4

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets

1/2 zucchini, sliced into quarter rounds

9 large (farm-fresh!?) eggs

1/4 cup milk, anything but skim (cream if you’re fancy)

1/3 cup mediterranean feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the broccoli florets and zucchini, and sauté the vegetables until lightly browning, about 5-8 minutes. Once browned, distribute evenly through the bottom of the pan.

Whisk together the eggs and milk. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and stir lightly to evenly distribute everything.  Sprinkle the feta cheese evenly over the egg liquid. Cook the eggs in the pan, still over medium to medium-low heat, until the bottom is just setting and the edges just begin to appear firm. This time can vary, but should take about 5-10 minutes.

Place the pan into the oven and cook until the frittata is completely cooked through, which can be recognized by gently shaking the pan and noting no movement of the eggs, about 12-15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, cool slightly, and enjoy.

This can easily serve a crowd, or can alternatively offer leftovers for a week. Whichever you please. Maybe you’re busy.

 

I’m Sorry; I Made You Tostadas

Oh, blog. I’m trying. I promise. It’s not you; it really is me. The thing is, it’s getting awfully close to the time when I have to asterisk “From a Chicago Kitchen” to “From a Chicago* Kitchen… *actually Evanston.” The blog change is the least of my worries in this regard. I am excited to be in a new place, with my own (probably thrifted) things, and I definitely am excited for more grass. But nonetheless, moving, the literal act of moving, is the worst. The worst thing ever. Maybe worse than car accidents and flat tires and speeding tickets in snowstorms. Maybe. Moving has a chance in the battle against February. So, naturally, I’m very busy not packing and planning wedding activities and trying to enjoy the outdoors and (potentially) trying to train for a triathlon. I keep regretfully eating a sad dinner and consequently not blogging about it. I do have a small collection of things I’ve eaten and enjoyed, and they’re all queued up to be mentioned. I’m just doing a pretty shoddy job of mentioning them. So, again, to apologize, I’m sharing this recipe for tostadas.

Taco Bell gets a bad rap for pretty much serving the same thing via different mediums and in different combinations, but here I am telling you about mexican food and pretending these are at all distinct from tacos. But, guys; they are. Tostadas are crunchy and incredibly messy and fresh and hot all at the same time. It’s like if nachos and tacos had this really delicious baby, and then told you it was totally fine if you ate their baby and enjoyed it. (I’m sorry also that I’m tired and probably absurd). As a bonus, it takes approximately 10 minutes to make these, and about 2 minutes to prepare leftovers. The biggest advice I can give to make tostadas maximum delicious is: go fresh. Fresh corn tortillas, fresh tomatoes, crisp lettuce. These things matter. These things make your tostadas way better than Taco Bell, and more definitely worth the huge mess it makes to eat them. The kind of down your chin, all over your plate, who cares I’ll use my hands mess that we love. I think I’ve talked this up enough. Just try it.

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Vegetarian Tostadas

Serves 3 (6 tostadas)

6 corn tortillas

1 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 can refried beans, vegetarian (I bought mine from trader joe’s)

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Juice of 1 lime

1/4- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese

1/4 cup salsa (freshly made or store-bought)

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup lettuce, shredded

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prepare the refried beans, heat 2 tsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the yellow onion and bell pepper in the olive oil. Once translucent (about 5 minutes), add salt, pepper, and spices to the vegetables and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the refried beans and lime juice and mix to incorporate. Continue to cook until the beans are heated through, about 2-5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and set aside.

Using about 1 tsp. of olive oil, lightly coat each side of the corn tortillas and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Once the oven has heated, cook the tortillas until just browning (watch carefully), about 3-5 minutes, then flip. Cook the remaining side until the tortilla is crisp, about another 3-5 minutes.

To prepare the tostada, top the corn tortillas with the refried beans and add shredded cheese, salsa, halved tomatoes, and lettuce. Eat and enjoy immensely.

If I had a margarita for you right now, I bet all would be forgiven. I can only hope these tostadas suffice.

Asparagus and Roasted Tomato Egg Yolk Pasta

Memorial day weekend is one of the best of the year. It’s the time to embark upon any and all summer adventures. The pools open for visitors, the beaches start to fill, grills everywhere are lighted, and the brightening green grasses and trees are appreciated to their fullest extent. There is almost nothing in the world that makes me happier than seeing my dog Oscar bound with excitement on his first steps through the park’s green grass. Memorial day weekend screams, loudly, “SUMMER IS COMING!” And, oh my God, how incredibly ready we are. If you haven’t yet eaten ice cream, drank minimum one beer outside, or at least felt the fresh contact of sunshine, please, please drop what you are doing and enjoy. But, of course, if you’re in for the night, or maybe laying exhausted on the couch, meal planning for the week ahead (which promises nothing as fantastic as the weekend has held), here’s a delightful, summer inspired recipe to try.

If you freak out about egg yolk being added uncooked to the pasta, you can always skip it. However, it cooks lightly from the heat of the pasta and the pan, and it adds a creamy richness unparalleled by just butter or pasta alone. I don’t know about you, but there’s basically nothing better than a runny egg yolk dripping over vegetables, and that’s exactly what my intention was here. It kind of mimics pasta carbonara in this fashion, which has been eaten by indulgent Italians for years, so there’s really nothing to fear.

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Asparagus and Roasted Tomato Egg Yolk Pasta

Serves 2

4 oz. buckwheat or whole wheat pasta (something long and noodley)

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

10-12 spears asparagus, trimmed

2 cups heirloom grape tomatoes

1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flake

Salt & pepper, to taste

1 egg yolk

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly shredded

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a deep sauté pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil. Add the asparagus and tomato to the pan and sauté until the asparagus has softened and the tomatoes have started to blister open, about 10-15 minutes. Season with red chili flake, salt, and pepper.

Add the pasta to the salted boiling water and cook according to package directions, pulling from the water about 30 seconds to 1 minute “early” (buckwheat pasta takes about 3-4 minutes to cook, so watch carefully). Drain and add to the roasted vegetables. Remove the sauté pan from the heat.

Add the egg yolk to the pasta and toss until evenly coating the pasta and vegetables. I find tongs to be the easiest tool to use. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss again. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as preferred.

As you can see, this comes together quite quickly. Definitely under 20 minutes. So indulge, enjoy, and relish in the impending delight that is summertime.

 

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Hot and Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms

Oh, yeah. If you’re going to describe something as hot and cheesy, you’re probably not referencing mushrooms. You’re probably drooling over some mac ‘n’ cheese, or a pizza straight from the oven, or even a cheeseburger hot off the grill. Mushrooms are little fungi that have no clout with the hot and cheesy comfort foods of America. Not to say they don’t have their place- mushrooms can totally top that pizza or cheeseburger or even swim along side the melted cheese in your pasta. People respect them; they’re just not really that excited. But stuffed mushrooms deserve their place among the dinner parties and maybe even BBQs of your future. They’re poppable and flavorful and oh-so-endearing. The stuffing components have expansive, varied potential, but this recipe comes together in seriously 16 minutes and is a great place to start. I, in fact, invented this recipe on one of those I-haven’t-shopped-in-2-weeks-what-now kind of evenings, so you won’t find fresh herbs or obscure components this time. Not that they wouldn’t be delicious… but let’s keep things simple for now.

I used little button mushrooms for this recipe, because they’re what I always buy at the grocery store- they’re super versatile. But if you wanted a more substantial mushroom, you could easily up the ante by using adult creminis, which are portobellos (gasp!). I personally enjoy the ratio of filling to mushroom here, and also believe the diminutive size of these snacks to be a positive rather than an annoyance. To speak further to the possibilities here, you can of course adjust the amount of hot sauce you add to these to heat things up even more. Wow; it’s getting hot in here. All this mushroom talk… Just wait ’til you hear the compliments coming your way when you bring these to that block party next week.

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Hot and Cheesy Stuffed Mushrooms

Serves 2 (or multiply for limitless servings)

10 baby cremini mushrooms, rinsed and de-stemmed

1/4 cup hummus (I used original, but play around with the flavors)

2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

2 tsp. hot sauce

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. bread crumbs, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare the mushrooms by rinsing and gently removing the stem (save for stock or toss it). In a small bowl, stir together the hummus, Parmesan, hot sauce, and spices until well blended. To easily fill the mushrooms, add the filling to a zip top bag and push into one corner. Snip the corner to make a 1/4 inch opening. Squeeze the filling into the mushrooms (about 1/2 tbsp. per mushroom). You may have a bit left over, depending on how much you add. Feel free to overflow these a bit; they’ll stay stable in the oven. Top the stuffed mushrooms with a sprinkle of bread crumbs.

Bake the mushrooms in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until golden and juuuuust starting to release their juices. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and serve.

These are an awesome quick dinner, a great appetizer, a perfect pot-luck accompaniment, and just an all-around good time. So easy, so good; you should certainly multiply this by about 10.

Tomato and Basil Wrap with Goat Cheese

I’m considering moving from Chicago to be closer to work. And by considering I mean looking at rental properties and planning the timeline of my summer around the move. I’ve had emotions ranging from excitement (to leave behind a bad commute) to apathy to an “everything will be about the same” attitude to outright sadness. And now that it’s getting closer, the latter is the overwhelming opinion. It’s probably because the trees are green now and the sun comes out. And that the streets are starting to burst open with people and the skyline is sparkling again. It’s probably something to do with the extra time the sunlight allots my day and the ease and freedom I have in calling up friends to meet for dinner. I’m a little unsure if I’ve allowed something so transient as a job to remove me from this beautiful city that is the reason I moved back to the midwest. And then I’m certain that people in their 20s are supposed to move for work because those are the sacrifices you make to be successful. But maybe-I-don’t-want-to-be-successful-I-just-want-to-eat-dinner-outside-on-the-sidewalks. Who finances that lifestyle?

So here’s a really delicious wrap that you can make for lunch the night before to bring to work. It feels pertinent to discuss things like that as I toss and turn with thoughts and expectations for work, life, and otherwise. Because the question: what should I bring for lunch tomorrow? persists despite all life events. It is the permanent question at 9:39pm when you wanted to go to bed 10 minutes ago. It is important because it’s food that will fuel your day, but so absurdly insignificant because it’s that midday meal that’s satisfied by leftovers or snacks or cafeteria food or random fridge grabs. No one really cares much about lunch. So here; change that.

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Tomato and Basil Wrap with Goat Cheese

Serves 1

1 large flour tortilla, softened

2 tbsp. roasted garlic hummus

1 tbsp. goat cheese, crumbled

8-10 fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup baby spinach

5 heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the sandwich, I spread on a layer of hummus, followed by the goat cheese crumbles. Drop a few basil leaves and top with a small handful of baby spinach. Halve the tomatoes and stack precariously atop the greens. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roll the wrap by tucking in both ends and rolling away from you. I usually wrap it up in a paper towel and aluminum foil to keep it contained.

This stays well overnight, probably even longer (I haven’t tried). A perfectly flavorful lunch wrap tangy from the goat cheese and creamy from the hummus, with just the right peppery basil bite and pop of fresh tomato. Serve with some fruit or Greek yogurt for a truly healthy lunch of champions. Pride yourself on your preparedness and commitment to not buying lunch from the cafeteria. High five.

And now, back to ponder the great questions of life.

Caramelized Onion, Sun-dried Tomato, and Goat Cheese Quiche

Quiche. Oh my god, quiche. I love quiche. It is astoundingly underrated. For instance, when you go to brunch, what do you have swimming in your head, what options are you fanning through mentally? Omelet, egg scramble, french toast, pancakes, eggs benedict, fresh juice, eggs-in-a-basket, biscuits and gravy… the classics. But as you frustratingly toy between deciding sweet or savory (eventually just going for the huge breakfast platter that combines both), quiche is just sitting there on the side, being absurdly perfect, waiting for you to remember. Quiche isn’t offered at every restaurant or brunch place. It’s a little bit “fancy,” and it may only be available at your delicious-yet-kind-of-hipster/trendy neighborhood haunt. (I can think specifically of my favorite brunch place in the city- Birchwood Kitchen- with their quiches sitting poised atop a glass cabinet of salads and baked goods). So it’s fair that it’s not a regular go-to when you’re sitting down for brunch on a Sunday morning at 11am. But I am here to fight for it. Fight for its representation. Because, guys, it’s basically PIE filled with EGGS. With fillings that are delightful and usually perfectly fresh and almost always healthy yet delicious.

So you can’t get it out all the time, or maybe you still insist that you can’t make french toast at home (eh hem, you can), but there’s no reason not to delight in the wonder that is quiche when the craving hits. (It’s actually hitting you right now, you just don’t remember). There is a crust to quiche, and I personally am annoyed when Pinterest links and Internet sites quote recipes for “crustless quiches,” because those totally already exist, everyone; they’re called frittatas, and they are too delicious, in their own way. But making a crust can scare people away, moreso than even French toast or pancakes from scratch. If you have 5 minutes, a rolling pin, and butter and flour, you can make pie crust. It’s even easier in a food processor, but absolutely not necessary. If you were to be making an actual fancy pie, I’m certain there would be more crust rules. But you’re making a brunch item. This just needs to taste good.

Now, the second part of quiche that has people worried is the filling. What should you put inside there!? Eggs, obviously, but the additional components and flavor combinations are endless. It’s at least as expansive as the variety afforded to omelets, but with the benefit of not compromising the tedious and delicate cooking process of preparing an omelet. I like things to be relatively simple, in the interest of highlighting genuine flavors, and am a huge sucker for caramelized onions all the time. The beauty of these ingredients (which are listed below) is that they are available and delicious at any time of the year. If it’s summer and you would prefer to highlight the bounty of summer vegetables then available, by all means do so. But this quiche is a good staple and a good place to start.

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Caramelized Onion, Sun-dried Tomato, and Goat Cheese Quiche

Serves 6

Crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or a 50/50 ratio of all-purpose and whole wheat)
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 8 tbsp./ 1 stick/ 1/4 lb. of unsalted butter, cold and diced
  • 3-6 tbsp. ice water, reserved

Filling

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced thinly
  • 2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • Salt & pepper to season, to taste
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk, anything but skim
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 oz. (about 1/4 cup) goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a 9-inch pie pan by coating it thinly with butter and set aside.

Begin by preparing the filling. In a medium sauté pan, over medium heat, add 1 tbsp. olive oil and the sliced yellow onions. Cook until lightly browning and softened, about 15 minutes. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, mix, and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

To make the crust, mix the flour(s) and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cold and diced butter, and, using your fingertips, mix the butter into the flour. The butter should gradually breakdown to pea-sized pieces, and the whole mixture will look almost sandy with small clumps. Then, slowly add the ice water, starting with 3 tbsp. then adding by 1/2-1 tbsp. as needed. Mix the water into the flour mixture with your hands until evenly distributed. You should continue to add water until you have a shaggy dough that forms the shape of your first when you squeeze it and just stays together in a small ball. Pour the dough out onto a floured surface or counter (there should be some dry scraggly bits) and mold into a flat disc. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a circle about 2-3 inches wider in diameter than the pie pan. The dough will likely break a bit as you roll it out, but just push the broken pieces back together. The easiest way to transfer the dough to the pie pan is to roll it onto the rolling pin and then unroll it over the pan. Press the crust dough into the pan, consolidating the dough at the edges to form an even, slightly thickened ridge elevated about 1/2 an inch above the edge of the pan. Your dough will likely be an uneven circle, so just transfer pieces as needed to more “thin” areas. From here, you can flute the edges of the dough if you want, or just leave it as is. To flute the crust, indent the crust from the outside with the pointer finger of your right hand against the counter-pressure of your thumb and pointer finger of your left hand, making a triangle of dough, essentially. Go around the entire crust that way. It won’t look perfect. That’s fine.

Once the dough is complete, add your vegetables. Ideally, you should have about 2 cups of vegetables in your quiche with a standard pie pan (if your pan is deeper, you may want to amp up the veggies by another cup or so). Whisk together the eggs, milk, and 1/2 tsp. of salt and pour over the veggies. Scoot the veggies around some if needed so everything is evenly distributed. Top the filling with goat cheese, sprinkling it evenly over the quiche.

Place the quiche in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, until the center is set (the eggs shouldn’t wiggle or jiggle in the pan, but rather look quite firm and fluffy). Remove the quiche to cool slightly, for about 10 minutes, and serve.

 

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Delicious, buttery pie crust, with creamy eggs and the burst of sweet then savory then cheesy flavor. Make a quiche next time. Please.