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!

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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!

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.

Spring Onion and Thyme Chicken Salad

I last made this chicken salad, I think, over 4 years ago at my apartment in Durham. My mom and Brian were over and were hungry. I whipped this up pretty quickly for an easy dinner, and then it was promptly devoured with pita bread dippers and even a spoon. Chicken salad is so easy, yet so delicious, it’s interesting that I should go several years without making it. What’s important, though, is that Brian loved it (loves it? who knows). This chicken salad involves poaching the chicken, which seems, on first glance, to be the least flavorful way of cooking chicken there is. However, poaching the chicken in a flavorful stock with fresh herbs and vegetables actually ensures the most moist, juicy chicken ever. And once tossed with the other salad ingredients, this truly becomes a decadent lunch- or dinner-time food.

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Spring Onion and Thyme Chicken Salad

2 chicken breasts poached

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 – 1 lb.)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, quartered

1/2 cup mayonnaise, light or otherwise

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 green apple, diced finely

1/4 yellow onion, diced finely

4 spring onions, diced

2-3 tbsp. fresh chives, minced

2-3 tbsp. fresh thyme (several sprigs)

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the poached chicken, add all ingredients to a sauce pan, including the stock. Bring the mixture just to a boil, then lower the heat to very low and cover. Poach for about 15 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken breasts) until the chicken is tender to touch. Remove the poaching liquid from the heat, and allow the chicken to cool in the liquid for 10-20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the liquid and chop roughly. Strain the liquid and store as stock for a later date! (It keeps well in the freezer).

Mix together the chicken salad ingredients and serve, over a spring salad with cucumber or in a pita pocket or on a slice of bread. This keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

 

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Gnocchi with Balsamic Reduction and Garlic Kale

Ah! It’s been a whole week, and I haven’t had one moment to talk about dinner. Sunny, warmed up, Spring- and Summer-time Chicago is a demanding experience. People are always doing everything, preferably outdoors, at any and all hours, and yes, of course, you should go also. You should take your dogs on epic 2-hour walks down the lakefront, stopping to sprint and roll and tackle in the middle of dandelion-spotted verdant grass inherent only to the Midwest in late Spring. You should stare longingly at Lake Michigan, willing it with your mind to be warmer, knowing that regardless you can’t really swim in that bacteria-laden pool. You should run outside, in the morning, afternoon, or night, relishing the angles of the sun on the skyline and the dusted rooftops as the sun sets. You should certainly eat tacos on the sidewalks, with at least one margarita on the side. And yes, absolutely enjoy a happy hour flight down the street. You can feel the depths of winter siphoning out of your veins, and you can almost, almost forget it happened (maybe not this year entirely). But on those rare nights in, probably on Wednesday, you still need to eat dinner.

Gnocchi is responsible for the best meal of my life, hands down. Traveling Florence with my best friend way-too-many years ago, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant off the main streets. We had a carafe of water and a glass of wine; I ordered gnocchi with tomato cream sauce and she ravioli. I’m certain she enjoyed her meal immensely, but I will never ever forget the pillowy, unbelievably cloud-like texture of the gnocchi I had that day. The tomato cream sauce was light but flavorful, just enough to coat the little dumplings of joy. I haven’t tried homemade gnocchi (yet), so returning to the US I’ve been accepting but somewhat disappointed in the gnocchi offerings. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying this Italian classic, but I should definitely try my hand at my own version.

Regardless, this gnocchi is really most about the accompaniments. The gnocchi is still, of course, soft and flavorful, but the balsamic reduction and vegetables and kale are perfect for an almost-summer dinner that still warms you up. It’s absurdly easy, also, so don’t let the word “reduction” fool you. It really just means “heat for awhile then serve.”

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Gnocchi with Balsamic Reduction and Garlic Kale

Serves 3-4

1 lb. gnocchi

1 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

6 cups kale, washed and chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flake

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly (chiffonade)

Salt & pepper, to taste

In a small sauce pan, heat the balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. It should be reduced in about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water, salted, to boil.

In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers and sauté until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have softened, browned, and just releasing their juices. Season with salt and pepper.

While the vegetables are cooking, in a separate pan add 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the kale and stir. Cook the kale until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flake to the kale and stir.

In the large pot of water, add the gnocchi and cook for about 3 minutes, or according to package directions.

Add the balsamic reduction to the vegetables and mix. Once the gnocchi has cooked, add the gnocchi to the pan as well. Stir thoroughly so all of the gnocchi and vegetables are coated.

To your serving plate, add a serving of garlic kale. Top with the balsamic-coated gnocchi and vegetables. Enjoy.

 

 

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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.

Carrot Cake

Happy Easter! I’m choosing to celebrate today with a delicious breakfast and carrot cake for dessert (which comes sometime in the afternoon, I’m predicting). I’m a little bit (read: very much) jealous of my brothers having fun together in North Carolina without me, and my dog prancing along (read: napping along) with them, but at least it’s a nice day here in the city. I also have a long run to do today, which is somewhat anxiety-producing, making the cake doubly necessary.

Now, per tradition, on Easter my grandma or mom would prepare a bunny cake, which is obviously named based on the appearance rather than the type of cake or flavor. I don’t even remember what kind of cake we usually used, but there was always white frosting, coconut, licorice whiskers, jellybean eyes and nose, and a bowtie of M&Ms. I begrudgingly removed most of these decorations, because licorice and jellybeans are not my candies-of-choice. The cake was good, but there was always too much, and with all of the other food and desserts (and CANDY) available on Easter, I don’t remember too much focus on the bunny cake outside of a few pictures.

As someone who enjoys dabbling in baking, and with the cake tradition arming my resolution, I decided to whip up my favorite carrot cake this weekend. I’ve made this cake once before, several years ago, and my roommate and I devoured it over the course of a week or so. It keeps well in the refrigerator (which is necessary due to the icing), and it tasted fresh and delicious that whole time. I’m not a big frosting person, in that I usually find it too saccharine or heavy or chemically (if that’s a word), but cream cheese frosting is THE BEST. Especially with some coconut. Cream cheese frosting makes carrot cake the divine, wonderfully dense cake it is. And all of the above prepared from scratch, with fresh carrots and walnuts? So good.

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Carrot Cake

Based off of this recipe

Serves about 16-20

9 inch round x 3 inches deep pan or 9×9 square pan

Unsalted butter, for the pan

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or whole wheat flour)

1 cup all-purpuse flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

6 medium carrots, grated

1 1/3 cup white sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

3 large eggs

2/3 cup vanilla yogurt (or plain yogurt)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup walnuts

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
  • 1/2 stick of butter (4 tbsp.)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, to top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the bottom and sides of your baking pan, and place parchment paper on the bottom of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.

In a food processor, grate the carrots. Or, alternatively, shred the carrots with a grater. Add the shredded carrots to the bowl with the flour and other ingredients. Mix together until the carrots are evenly coated.

In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream together the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Once smooth and creamy, drizzle in the vegetable oil while on a slow mixing speed. Beat until combined.

Pour the liquid mixture into the carrot-flour mixture. Add 1 cup of walnuts. Stir with a large spoon to just combine.

Pour the carrot cake batter into the prepared baking pan. Place the pan in the 350 degree oven on the middle rack and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, reduce the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake an additional 10-20 minutes, until the cake is cooked through. Test the cake’s doneness by dipping a toothpick in the center and ensuring that it comes out clean. Or use a thermometer to identify when the center of the cake has reached 205-210 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the cake out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool completely, at least 1hour.

While the cake is cooling, cream together the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixture, until smooth and creamy. Integrate the powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time, beating slowly after each addition, until thoroughly blended. Add the vanilla and beat until blended. Add the shredded coconut and mix until well distributed.

Once the cake has cooled, frost with the coconut cream cheese frosting. Top with shredded coconut. The cake will keep at room temperature for a few hours, but should otherwise be refrigerated between servings. It tastes really quite good straight from the refrigerator, but is slightly more flavorful once allowed to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or so.

*Just FYI, my cake is long a narrow because I actually sliced it in half and frosted each half individually, so I could give half the cake out to others. I can’t eat an entire cake! Awkward frosting due to me not having enough, really, to individually frost several miniature cakes!

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Also, you can feel so healthy, because this cake is really not too sweet, full of carrots and walnuts, and lightly frosted (note: if you want a thicker frosting coating, you may want to 1 1/2 the recipe. I find the thickness (about 1/4-1/2 inch) to be appropriate for the cake). And anyways, you should indulge all you want, it’s Easter! And nice outside! Celebrate.

Sriracha Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Coconut Cream and Cilantro

Soup season may be “over,” but I think there’s a free soup pass if it’s under 50 degrees, and that’s still the case in Chicago. But I did want to amp up the “Spring-time” feel with coconut and cilantro, which actually are probably a Summer feel, but I digress. I also wanted to try a new trick for soup: thickening with soft tofu. I’d read about using tofu as a thickener ages ago, and when the idea of a spicy, Sriracha-inspired red pepper soup jumped into my brain, I immediately remembered that advice. Something in my brain begged for this soup to have an Asian spin (probably the Asian lettering on the Sriracha bottle), and this seemed to be the perfect application for using tofu as a thickening agent. Partially, also, because I wanted to impart a subtle-if-at-all-discernable tofu flavor. So there’s some insight into my brain, and an explanation of my recent Google searches. I have to say, though, as someone who loves Sriracha and its unique kick, and loves tofu’s just-present flavor, this soup really, really hit the mark. It may be a new favorite. Because, come on, it’s mostly just a ton of roasted red peppers, which may be the best “vegetable” purchasable at your neighborhood Trader Joe’s (or other grocery store).

If it’s Spring where you are, I truly hope you are enjoying it in hours of sunlight-laden evenings and relishing the feeling of warm skin. When in California, I realized the little things you miss when you’re on your 7th month of unrelenting cold: hot metal railings, warm wood on your feet, sun-kissed shoulders, enjoyable breezes. I know it’s all coming soon, and I’m optimistic in general at this point, but I’m allowed soup in the interim, and you should have it just to delight in the flavor (and maybe enjoy as a tongue-in-cheek tribute). Ah, winter; Sriracha kills you every time.

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Sriracha Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Coconut Cream and Cilantro

Serves 4

1 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, roughly chopped

2 tbsp. sriracha

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper

3 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup light coconut milk

1/2 block soft or silken tofu, cubed

Coconut cream, to serve

  • 2 tbsp. Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. light coconut milk

Fresh cilantro, chopped, to serve

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add onion. Sauté the onion until lightly browning, about 5-8 minutes. Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds- 1 minute longer. Add the diced roasted red peppers and stir. Add salt, pepper, and spices. Mix and heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the sriracha and stock, stir, and bring to a boil.

Once boiling, remove from heat and puree until smooth using an immersion blender. Add the coconut milk and blend to combine. Add the soft tofu cubes and blend until the soup is smooth and thickened. (I found the tofu didn’t blend entirely, meaning I could see small flecks of tofu. Probably a Vitamix or intense blender could get this smooth, but it’s really a visual thing more than anything). Pour the soup back into the sauce pan and heat until hot (the coconut milk and tofu will cool the soup). Once heated, pour into bowls.

Top the bowls with coconut cream and cilantro to serve. I think a grilled cheese would pair nicely, too, if desired.

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In real life, you add a mountain of cilantro and a ton of coconut cream, because it’s amazing. The cream is so, so cool and delicious against the spicy, intensely flavored soup. I was expecting to be off-the-roof spicy, but it’s really very manageable (to my moderately-tolerable spice palate). Obviously, you could use more or less Sriracha to taste. I’m sure Brian would like an additional squeeze. And really, don’t let the tofu scare you; I think it’s the perfect way to complete this soup.

Oh, and yes that is a dachshund towel. Of course.

 

Spring Vegetable Quinoa Salad

It’s been warm for the past two days, which would be exciting if the weather channel didn’t have that 10-day-forecast of anxiety available. So while it broke 50 degrees (60 yesterday!) for three days in a row, I know it’s fleeting, with promises of colder, rainy weather later this week. I also had no opportunity to enjoy a spare minute of warmth with travel and working late, so I’m hardly feeling like Spring is around the corner. It’s nice wearing a different coat, though, and not freezing walking to my car. But, man, everybody is talking about the weather these days. Maybe because we’re all desperate for it to change. Onto other topics- salad. Vegetables in salad. Spring vegetables in salad. Because agreeable weather or not, it seems as though lighter, brighter vegetables are finally coming into season, and that is something to truly enjoy. My grocery list is now just a list of various vegetables, with Greek yogurt and eggs tacked on to the end. It’s my favorite. So I wanted to use these vegetables in a way that would truly spotlight them. Vegetables don’t need to be relegated to the side of the plate, shadowed by a hunk of meat and barely seasoned. They can and should be the center, the flavor of the dish! This salad is absolutely bursting with veggies, which may or may not seem natural to you, but it tastes so cohesive and delicious. Holding the asparagus, broccoli, and radishes together are the quinoa and a quick and easy lemon vinaigrette. I’ve been eating this for lunch all week (with a side of Greek yogurt- yum [by the way, some Bonne Maman jam swirled into Fage is the. best. snack/lunch side. ever.]).

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Spring Vegetable Quinoa Salad

Serves 4

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups chicken stock

2 stalks broccoli, chopped into small florets

12-15 asparagus spears, chopped into 1 inch segments

3-4 spring onions, chopped into 1 inch segments

4-5 radishes, sliced thinly into rounds

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chicken stock

Lemon vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Dash of freshly cracked black pepper

Romaine lettuce, sliced/ chopped

Goat cheese, crumbled, to serve

Hard-boiled egg, diced/ crumbled, to serve

To prepare the quinoa, add to a hot pot over medium-high heat. Toast the quinoa for 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed, about 12-15 minutes. Stir to fluff and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables. In a large sautee pan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp. olive oil. Sautee the asparagus and broccoli until softening and lightly browning, about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of chicken stock and allow to boil, steaming the vegetables. Continue to cook until the liquid has boiled off, about another 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon vinaigrette. Add the cooked broccoli and asparagus, as well as the radish rounds and spring onions. Mix to coat. Add the cooked quinoa and stir to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To serve, add the chopped Romaine lettuce to a plate. Top with the spring vegetable quinoa salad. Sprinkle on goat cheese and/or a chopped hard-boiled egg for additional protein to round out the meal. Serve with a small side for a complete lunch.

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This isn’t exactly dinner, necessarily; but would be a great side or main lunch component. The lemony spring flavor and fresh, bright vegetables are so inviting with the nutty quinoa holding everything together. This is how I like to eat salad.

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

It’s the first day of Spring! Oh my god. The first day of Spring! It almost was never going to happen. I hear the birds chirping in the morning now. And while I still don my heaviest and puffiest of winter coats, I don’t always have to zip it up to my chin. And sometimes, in the afternoons, I don’t wear gloves anymore. I don’t experience the weather between 2 and 3, when it’s supposedly the warmest, but it looks like it’s almost nice outside. And the sun is effectively fooling me into thinking it is so. There is so much hope in today. Even though the forecast predicted 50 but it never felt much above 35. Tomorrow, though; tomorrow it is supposed to be 60 degrees! 60! This is what Spring is, really. The promise that tomorrow will be 60 degrees. If I were still in North Carolina, Spring itself would be a celebration. Spring is the most beautiful time, I believe, in the South. Summer can just get a little too warm and long. Chicago isn’t quite the same, as Spring usually means a bounce between winter and summer just long enough that you start to wonder if it’ll ever be Spring… until it’s Summer in late June. I’ll take anything, though. Absolutely anything.

I wasn’t sure I was going to share this recipe, because it is so very simple. It’s more of a technique, applicable to multiple spices and variations. But it’s a worthy one, I feel. And with Spring starting today, it just feels right to share a lemony side dish. I guess mostly because it reminds me of Easter, and that’s now just weeks away. These potatoes certainly aren’t a meal on their own, but this preparation- the boiling then roasting- prepares absolutely perfect bites. Crispy, crunchy exterior and a smooth, mashed potato like inside. Tossed in lemon and sprinkled with fresh rosemary, these potatoes are a wonderful side. I also enjoy them plain, dunked in ketchup, so really whatever you want to do is probably fine.

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Lemon Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4

6 yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes (ish)

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium pot filled 2/3 full with water, add cubed potatoes. Bring the water to a boil, and boil the potatoes for 4-5 minutes, no more.

Drain the potatoes and add to a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Toss the potatoes gently to coat. Pour the potatoes onto a baking sheet (best if lined with parchment paper). Roast teh potatoes for 20-25 minutes, until crisping and browned on the edges.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and toss with fresh rosemary. Add additional seasoning if needed. Eat hot, room temperature, or cool; pretty much all ways these taste great.

 

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SPRING. Eat some potatoes.