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!

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Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

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

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

shrimp and plantains

Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

312 Chili

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

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

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312 Chili

Serves 6

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 carrot, diced

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

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

2 tbsp. smoked paprika

2 tsp. cumin

1 1/4 tsp. oregano

1 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. cayenne*

1 6 oz. can of tomato paste

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

1-2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 15 oz. can kidney beans

1 15 oz. can black beans

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

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Ever Mac and Cheese

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

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Best Ever Mac and Cheese

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

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

1 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1 tbsp. smoked paprika

Salt & pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. flour

3/4 cup milk, anything but skim

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

Spinach to serve

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

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

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

Die.

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

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!

Summer Frittata

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

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

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Summer Frittata

Serves 4

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets

1/2 zucchini, sliced into quarter rounds

9 large (farm-fresh!?) eggs

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

1/3 cup mediterranean feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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Light and Lemony Tuna Salad

After long runs in the sunshine, or even just a delightful day outside, I find myself craving light, fresh, and bright-flavored foods. Little fish tacos with a margarita, or cucumber salad, or guacamole and super thin chips. Or, when you’re in a pinch, a quick and easy tuna salad. A can of tuna is a ubiquitous pantry member, yet it usually lies dormant on the shelf for months, until someone remembers it and either tosses it out or finally puts it to use. It’s definitely considered a back-up food, as most foods with long shelf-lives are, but it certainly warrants a bit more attention. Tuna salad can be heavy, rich, and, frankly, pretty gross if prepared poorly. Which is how I feel about it when I see it in a cafeteria. But by swapping some of the fat-laden components for more fresh ingredients, tuna salad can elevate to a truly delicious salad topper, dip, or sandwich.

There are pros and cons to tuna consumption, weighing on contrasting sides the mercury content and over-fishing against the nutritional benefits (when consumed in moderation). It can be considered a health food when eaten on a weekly to monthly basis, which, to be fair, it never is. The economical and moral impact of buying and eating tuna has more controversy, and you can follow-up with your documentary of choice. I always buy dolphin-safe, sustainable tuna, but that is admittedly pretty hard to find. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both have a good selection to choose from. Other choices range from albacore to white tuna to super white, packed in water or oil with or without salt. Go with whatever sounds good. I usually select albacore packed in water, lightly salted. But I love salt and buy everything with it, so take that as you will.

The best pairing, I think, to the slightly dense-tasting fish, is lemon and fresh greens. Lemon and herbs have the magic ability to freshen and lighten almost every food, and combined they almost transport you to the garden somehow. In Spring-time, of course. Herbs obviously have great variety of flavor, and alternating your choice here can give your lunch the diversity it needs, if you’re a tuna-salad-eater. But this combination I would say is pretty classic.

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Fresh and Lemony Tuna Salad

Serves 2

1 can albacore tuna packed in water

1/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt (I love Fage)

1 tbsp. mayonnaise with olive oil (or mayonnaise of choice)

2 tbsp. minced chives

2 green onions, diced

1 lemon, zested

Dash of cayenne

Salt & pepper to taste

Drain the tuna thoroughly, then add to a small mixing bowl. Break up the tuna with a fork. Add the yogurt and mayonnaise and stir to combine. Add the chives, green onions, lemon zest, and seasonings. Stir to mix completely. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Serve the tuna salad over a bed of mixed greens, on a pita, on a sandwich, with crackers, in a wrap, or whatever way your head can dream up.