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!

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!

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!

Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

This is the best meal I have eaten in weeks. Months? Years? It’s hard to know for sure, but I do know that this recipe is absolutely delicious. I was craving Greek food intensely, but being halfway through whole 30, hummus and feta cheese and creamy sauces are still totally off limits, making me believe this craving would have to wait. But I conspired a bit with the ingredients in my fridge and decided this could be done. And I didn’t miss the hummus, or the feta, or the creamy sauces at all! Well, perhaps because I made a pseudo-tzatziki with coconut milk, and mimicked the grains with cauliflower rice, but seriously, it all works as well as any Greek restaurant meal.

I also, after eating this dinner, went out to run a few hours later, in the 80 degree evening after sunset, and ran faster and stronger than I have in weeks, months? I’m not sure if it’s the three months of training finally catching up and working, or the past two weeks of really prioritizing nutrition and sleep, or maybe… the chicken!? Ha, probably not the chicken. But just maybe it is, indeed, magic.

This recipe seems elaborate, with multiple components and ingredients; however, it truly is a 30-minute meal (not a-la-Rachel Ray) and comes together easily. I’ll emphasize that I do multi-task like a pro in the kitchen, but I’d wager that anyone can whip this up easily on a weeknight. There’s a few hours of hands-off time to marinate the chicken, but that’s as labor unintensive as can be.

If you’re following whole 30, or just really into Greek food, please make this. And, if you’d rather, you could always replace the cauliflower with rice or cous cous, but you definitely don’t need to and should give this version a try.

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Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

Serves 2-4

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Greek Chicken Marinade

  • 1 1/2 small lemons (or 1 large), juiced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

1 large head of cauliflower, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp oregano

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, sliced finely into half-moons

2-4 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Coconut Tzatziki

  • 1/4 cup coconut cream, cooled (cooling after whisked and stored in a small container allows the cream to thicken to a consistency nearer a thin yogurt)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 large cucumber, diced
  • 2 green onion sprigs, diced
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Start by mixing together all marinade ingredients in a large dish. Add the chicken, turning a few times to coat. Refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to eat, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet or oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown for 4-5 minutes on one side, then flip. Cook on the reverse side for 1 minute, then move the pan to the oven and bake the chicken for 10-15 minutes (it will depend on the size of the breasts; I find 0.5 lb breasts to take 12 minutes, but you can check with a meat thermometer or cut into the chicken to verify its cooked through).

While cooking the chicken, split the head of cauliflower into quarters, then cut the leaves and stems from the head, cutting at an angle underside the cauliflower head. Break the quarters into florets then pulse in a food processor until the cauliflower is the consistency of small grains (I had to do this in 4 smaller batches). Mince the garlic and add to the cauliflower mixture. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic-cauliflower mixture as well as oregano, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes then lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for an additional 5-8 minutes, until the cauliflower is softened somewhat.

While the cauliflower is cooking, mix together the coconut cream, lemon juice, cucumber, green onion, and spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Remove the cauliflower rice from the pan and plate. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to that pan and add the diced onion with a bit of salt and pepper. Sauté briefly, about 2-3 minutes, over medium-high heat, just until the onion is translucent.

Add the onion next to the plated cauliflower rice. Slice the tomatoes and align beside the onions. Slice the rested chicken and plate atop the rice and veggies. Spoon the coconut tzatziki over the chicken. Serve!

Take big bites with all ingredients on one forkful. Then slow down and savor each flavor. Enjoy!