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!

Smashed Red Potatoes with Spiced Pumpkin Aioli

I haven’t blogged in awhile, and it’s definitely my fault. I keep thinking, “Oh, I’ll jot those recipes down on Saturday, when I have time.” And then it’s Sunday night, and I’m all ready to just crash in bed, when I remember that I didn’t spare a moment writing or photographing or even thinking about recipes and food. Well, that’s not true; I totally thought about food. But in any case, I guess I’ve been busy, and I haven’t been prioritizing. And I’m going to stop. Because in the meanwhile since my last post, Chicago has become an Icelandic tundra and nothing is nice outside anymore. So, back to the computer-world I go.

My dad yesterday informed me that it had been so long since I blogged that I could no longer share my pumpkin recipes. He knows well, I suppose, that I am all about pumpkin recipes. I mean, pumpkin has been an ingredient in my last few posts and cans of it still reside in my pantry. But, apparently, now that it’s cold, I’m supposed to blog about soup and rosemary and peppermint. But I say no Christmas, or even “holiday” (code for Christmas,) talk until Thanksgiving passes. Thanksgiving, which thoroughly accepts pumpkin and other squashes into its cornucopia, totally has not passed yet. And, in fact, I’m about as excited for Thanksgiving this year as I am Christmas, so holiday recipes be damned (for the time being. So sorry holiday recipes. I’m really looking forward to our time together. … Excuse me).

This dish is actually very Thanksgiving appropriate. And although I’d never dream of compromising the place of mashed potatoes at the table, a few smashed ones may sit along side nicely, especially if you’re into that renegade-untraditional-mix-up-the-Thanksgiving-table kind of meal. I’m not. At all. Tradition all the way. But regardless of circumstance, this is a really delicious, deceptively creative-appearing, super fast side dish. The potatoes are both creamy and crispy, the aioli both cooling and spicy, and the flavor just perfect. I inhaled this whole recipe as dinner myself, but it would probably be best served along with some protein or something. Or stuffing. With cranberry sauce. I am so excited for Thanksgiving.

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Smashed Red Potatoes with Spiced Pumpkin Aioli

Serves 3; easily doubled or multiplied

3 red potatoes, rinsed

~2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. pumpkin puree

1 tbsp. olive oil mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s)

1 tsp. Sriracha

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

Dash ( < 1/8 tsp) cayenne

Dash nutmeg

Dash thyme

Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fill a pot with cool water and drop in potatoes. Bring to a boil; then lower the temperature to maintain a slow boil. Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes, until cooked through and tender.

Place the potatoes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a large measuring cup or bowl (something with a flat, firm bottom) to smash the red potato evenly. It may crumble a bit, but try to keep it together for the most part. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake the potatoes in the oven for 20 minutes, until the edges are crisping. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Mix together the pumpkin and remaining below ingredients until a consistent sauce is achieved. Use a fork or spoon to drizzle the aioli over the potatoes. Serve to awed guests everywhere.

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Pumpkin Barley Risotto

Pumpkin. Not spice. I’m going the savory route with pumpkin this time, because, as you all should know, pumpkin is delicious without cinnamon as well. Just as other squashes seem to work with both salt and sugar, pumpkin really blends well with earthy spices like thyme and rosemary. I’ve made barley risotto before (it’s my favorite way to make risotto), but I felt inspired to add a new twist. This inspiration is likely derived from having bought all of the pumpkin things from Trader Joe’s, including cans of pumpkin puree. (Another side note: if you haven’t bought their mini ginger snap pumpkin ice cream sandwiches, just… please. Do it). This risotto skips a bit on the traditional ingredients, side-stepping a lot of the Parmesan and butter. In fact, it quite easily could be made vegan if you felt so inclined. Rather than compromising creaminess, however, the pumpkin amps up the rich and smooth and luxurious factor of this risotto so much the additional dairy is really not necessary. I actually made it once with Parmesan and once without, and I didn’t notice any difference at all. But, of course… I do still recommend topping with an inordinate amount of goat cheese.

Goat cheese on everything.

That should be my new blog name.

I actually made this risotto twice within a week, which is basically unheard of for me because 1) every recipe gives me leftovers, so I usually move on following the fourth plate and 2) I have to contend with the dying-by-the-day vegetables in my refrigerator, rarely allowing me to repeat a meal (living alone has its challenges). But! My friend and I were having our sort-of-weekly TV night, and I promised this risotto as we’re both pumpkin and goat-cheese obsessed. It did not disappoint. With a nice side of steamed or roasted vegetables, this is a perfectly impressive yet straightforward dinner for you, your guest, or your lunchbox.

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Pumpkin Barley Risotto

Serves 2-3

1 tbsp. unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold) or olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 cup pearl barley

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 – 2  1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock, warmed

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

2 tbsp. – 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese- optional

2-3 oz. goat cheese (chevre)

In a small pot, warm the stock to just below boiling. Keep warm over low heat.

In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the vegetables and sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the barley and stir to toast for about 2-3 minutes. Add the spices, salt, and pepper, and mix. Deglaze the pot with the balsamic vinegar and stir vigorously. Lower the heat to medium low.

Add about 1/2 cup of stock to the barley. Stir the barley regularly. Once the barley has absorbed most of the liquid, add another 1/4 – 1/2 cup of stock. Continue to add stock, stir, and add stock until the barley is fully cooked, usually in about 25-30 minutes. You may not need all of the stock recommended; you may need a bit more (have more at the ready). It depends on the barley, cooking temperature, and risotto gods.

Once the barley is softened and cooked through (it retains a chewy texture but should not have any bite), add the pumpkin puree and Parmesan cheese (if adding). Stir to mix thoroughly and taste. Re-season as needed with salt and pepper.

Add the pumpkin risotto to bowls and top with 1-2 tbsp. of freshly crumbled goat cheese and a sprinkle of oregano. Devour.

 

 

 

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Life as a single-person household.

 

*You’ll notice these pictures seem to lack onions and carrots. That’s because the second time is when I added those vegetables, and I really enjoyed the variety in texture. I’d advise adding them, but it’s up to you.

 

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.

Spicy Zucchini Pasta Arrabbiata with a Ton of Goat Cheese

I’m here to hyperbolize today. For one, zucchini is not pasta. For two, this is not a homemade arrabbiata sauce. For three, this isn’t a literal ton of goat cheese- more like 1.5 ounces. Whatever. It’s not hyperbole to say that the American summer drowns the population in zucchini. And when zucchini are 89 cents at the grocery store, or you have a sweet, farm-fresh zucchini hook-up, you start getting creative with recipes. Zucchini pasta is actually definitely not new for the Internet. I’ve seen a few recipes here and there, and I always imagined a mushy-textured bland delivery vessel for watery sauce. I just wasn’t that interested, I guess. But I have a bunch of zucchini, and I saw this recipe for a shaved summer squash salad. “That looks good,” I thought. And then I thought about blanching the zucchini, because do I even like it raw? And then things snowballed. I was adding Sriracha to my bowl and cooling off with a ton of goat cheese and freaking out about how I was going to blog about this dinner thisveryminute. And, check it out, I totally am. That’s right, I finished this meal 30 minutes ago, and I’m so pleased with it I have to write about it right now.

This dinner takes approximately 5 minutes to make, sets you back pretty much negative calories (cheese doesn’t count on top of vegetables), boasts nutrition stats like a Flintstone vitamin, and, yes, is incredibly delicious. It probably should be served with something substantial- some protein or something- just because alone it really is a bowl of vegetables. I’m not sure of the staying power, is what I’m saying. Anyways, when it’s too hot to cook in your apartment, and you’re overloaded with zucchini, and you just want a nice dinner that’s healthy and is something new, try this. Or, even, disregard all of that. Just try it.

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Spicy Zucchini Pasta Arrabbiata with a Ton of Goat Cheese

Serves 1 

1 zucchini, sliced thinly with a vegetable peeler

1/2 cup of green beans, rinsed and trimmed

1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant and Garlic

2 tsp. Sriracha

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Dash red chili flake

1 – 1.5 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

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Heat a pot of salted water to boiling.

In a bowl (I used my serving bowl), mix the red pepper and eggplant spread (Trader Joe’s has an awesome one) with the Sriracha and spices. Set aside.

Slice your zucchini into threads with a vegetable peeler (it doesn’t take that long- I promise. Alternatively, you could use a spiralizer if you have one. That’s cool). Rinse, trim, and chop your green beans into acceptable-sized pieces. Add the green beans to the boiling water. 2 minutes later, add the zucchini. Blanch for 3 minutes. Drain the green beans and zucchini through a strainer.

Add the zucchini pasta and green beans to the sauce. Stir to coat. Crumble a ton of goat cheese all over the top. Enjoy!

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.

Grilling Out

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted here, but for good reason. I’ve been literally making dinner for Brian! Having Brian and other family as visitors for the past 2 weeks (well, this past week I was just catching back up) was great. Chicago for the most part agreed to a seasonable weather forecast, and we celebrated with a good mix of tourist attractions and neighborhood gelato visits. Brian ate up almost every morsel of delivered food, be it from my kitchen, the delivery guy, or the restaurants at which we dined. And I loved every minute of it.

On the first weekend, when my apartment was bursting at the seams with guests (in a great way), we grilled out by my pool. It was unfortunately one of the coolest, windiest evenings of the week, but the hearty food and beer made up for it. Brian obliged by drinking sparkling water. I’m definitely a novice griller, and certainly not one to give a mountain of advice. However, some simple preparations for the vegetables and chicken really turned out well. The pictures from this night are horrible, but let the grainy shots demonstrate the darkness and reality of the evening. I’ll save the nice photos for when I’m not trying to listen intently to Brian explaining music theory at 9pm. There are more important things.

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Grilled Vegetables

1 eggplant, sliced into 1/2 in. discs

4 portobello mushroom caps

2 zucchini, sliced longitudinally

4 bell peppers, sliced into quarters

4 tbsp. olive oil

Salt & pepper, to taste

First, slice the eggplant. Salt lightly and allow to rest in a colander or strainer for 20 minutes. Rinse and dry. Prepare the vegetables by slicing and coating with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill for about 20 minutes over direct heat, or until vegetables are softened and grill marks are dark and delicious.

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Grilled and BBQ Chicken

2 lbs. chicken thighs

3/4-1 cup BBQ sauce

2 tbsp. olive oil

Salt & pepper, to taste

Marinate 1 lb. chicken thighs in BBQ sauce for at least 2 hours. Coat the remaining 1 lb. of chicken thighs in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill over direct heat for about 30 minutes, basting the BBQ chicken with additional BBQ sauce while grilling. Move to indirect heat if edges are darkening faster than the interior has cooked.

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Mojito Fruit Salad

1 small watermelon, cubed

2 pints raspberries

1 quart strawberries, halved

1 lime, juiced

1 tbsp. honey

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

Whisk together the lime juice and honey. Add the chopped fruit and toss. Sprinkle mint and toss together. Serve cold.

 

Together, with some beer and potato chips, this made for one good grill out session. Totally fueled us after a day of touring the classic Chicago sights…

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Concert in Millenium Park

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Bean photo-ops with the bro

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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Glazed Tofu Banh Mi

When you’re living in a big city, you without intention are exposed to new ideas and cultures and references on an almost daily basis (depending on how much you go outside). One of the fantastic things about Chicago is its diversity, and the fact that the variability in culture penetrates even the most “gentrified” neighborhoods. Because even though I live in a high-rise full of more-often-than-not wealthy-ish older white people, I’m also steps from 4 Asian fusion, 1 upscale Mexican, 1 classic American, 1 Swedish brunch, 3 chain, and countless other restaurants. One of these includes a Vietnamese sandwich shop, known most for their banh mi sandwich. I coincidentally lived very near a Vietnamese sandwich place last year as well, so I’ve essentially passed by this delicious delicacy on an almost daily occasion for 2 years now. I don’t know why, but I’ll say it: I’ve never had a classic banh mi sandwich. Cue shame.

Now, in actuality, banh mi refers to a type of bread, not a specific sandwich. But in the westernized United States, it almost always refers to a baguette-type sandwich with roasted pork, pickled vegetables, chili sauce and/or mayonnaise, and cilantro. Variations come off of this base model, usually exchanging the pork for other meats or, in this case, vegetarian soy products (tofu!). Basically, this sandwich is a dream of beautifully combined products that promise to sooth and challenge all parts of your palate. But, probably, you’ve been passing it by, either literally or figuratively, without knowledge of its potential power over your sandwich cravings. I’m here to remedy that problem, by offering up a means to make this sandwich at home. I promise it is worth the (marginal) trouble to prepare each component, as it really takes about 45 minutes of time and is worth every second of the 2 minutes you’ll spend wolfing it down. Again, this is a tofu variety, which is quite easy to prepare, but you could certainly go traditional by preparing some pork or chicken (the same marinade can apply).

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Glazed Tofu Banh Mi

Makes 4 sandwiches

2 small baguettes (I used take and bake varieties, which freeze well)

1 cucumber, sliced

4 stalks green onion, sliced

Cilantro, chopped

Glazed tofu:

  • 1 block extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flake
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

Pickled vegetables

  • 5 small carrots, julienned
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Sriracha cilantro mayonnaise

  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. sriracha
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro, chopped

First, press the block of tofu (per this post) for at least 20 minutes. Once the tofu has been pressed, slice the tofu thinly into 16, 1/4 inch slices (or, slice into quarters, then slice each quarter into 4 slices). Whisk together the tofu marinade, then dip each slice of tofu into the marinade and allow to marinate in a large pan for 15-20 minutes.

While the tofu is pressing, prepare the pickled vegetables. Thinly slice, or julienne, the carrots and bell pepper and place in a dish (ideally that can be covered for later). Bring the rice wine vinegar, water, sugar, and S&P to a boil, until sugar has dissolved in the liquid. Pour the pickling liquid over the vegetables and allow to rest in the liquid for at least 30 minutes. You can store the remaining vegetables in the pickling liquid for several days (if these sandwiches will be prepared as “leftovers” as well later… a good idea).

Next, prepare the sriracha cilantro mayonnaise by combining the ingredients in a small bowl and mixing well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Next, heat a griddle to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp. oil and the tofu to the pan (if using a sauté pan, this may require two batches). Heat the tofu for 3-5 minutes, until the first side is crisped and brown. Flip, then sauté the second side for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Now, time to prepare the sandwich! Split the baguette in half and then slice longitudinally to make 2 sandwiches. Spread about 1 tbsp. of sriracha cilantro mayo on one side. Top with 4 slices of glazed tofu. Pile on as much of the pickled veggies as you’d like, then top with fresh cucumber, green onion, and cilantro.

Eat the sandwich! Bits will certainly fall off as you eat, but relish in your unstable sandwich, should-be-take-out glory. I absolutely loved these sandwiches for lunch the next day, prepared the night before then eaten cold. Once all the components are prepared, it’s quite quick to put together. I’d imagine if you used meat you could just hold onto some extras for leftover sandwiches as well. Now I’m off to try the sandwich shop next door, just to compare…

 

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