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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Thai Dumpling Kale Salad

It may be a week until Christmas, but I’m already kind of done with the cookies. Maybe it’s because everyone’s Christmas parties start back into the beginning of December, or maybe it’s because I joined some friends in a cookie-baking-bonanza that resulted in a whole tin of cookies to myself. I kind of don’t want at all mashed potatoes or stuffing or ham or holiday comfort food. I’ve been jamming on avocados and goat cheese, and I got into my mind that I could really go for an Asian salad. You know the kind, the Americanized version with ginger and wontons.

Well, of course, I didn’t have the ingredients for the giant salad of my imagination (which mirrored that of California Pizza Kitchen fairly precisely), but I did recognize I had a bunch of kale, a threatening-to-die carrot, and maybe some impromptu dressing ingredients. Out of a basic pantry and sad representation of a refrigerator… I created the best dinner I have had in months.

No, really. Admittedly, I freaking love the dumplings from Trader Joe’s. I used to buy the pork gyoza all the time, but somehow hadn’t in awhile… maybe it was a grad school thing. But I don’t eat pork or pigs anymore, and the frozen isle caught my eye (I’ve been excessively lazy recently). I saw Thai gyoza and thought I’d give it a try. The dumplings, while absolutely important, sit atop a salad so flavorful and balanced, that the whole (giant) bowl just satisfies every salty, tangy, savory craving you didn’t even know you had. I was not at all a believer in kale salads; I usually sauté my kale or put it in soups (read: why I had kale in the first place… soup season). But by massaging in the dressing, the kale becomes perfectly crunchy with just the right bite to offset the soft, fluffy little dumplings. I must say, the fresh ginger makes it. Which I totally would not have had if Thanksgiving had not been so recent, but please buy some if you’re making this salad tomorrow (as you should).

And, so long as you have this, or just a normal bottle of Sriracha, you are totally ready to go.

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Thai Dumpling Kale Salad

Serves 1 hungry person (per usual); easily multiplied

Thai Peanut Dressing

½ tbsp. canola (or other mild-flavored) oil

½ tbsp. tamari or soy sauce

1 tsp. natural peanut butter (peanuts and salt)

1 tsp brown sugar

½ tsp. sriracha

2 inch ginger knob, peeled and grated finely, juice included, stringy remnants discarded

Dash crushed red pepper flake

Salad and Dumplings

2 cups organic curly kale, chopped finely

1 golden carrot, peeled and minced/ chopped finely

½ tbsp. canola oil

5 Thai vegetable (or shrimp) gyoza/ dumplings (from Trader Joe’s)

2 tbsp. roasted and salted peanuts

Sriracha to serve

In a large serving bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Add the kale and toss, with your hands, massaging the dressing into the kale leaves. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients (time is your friend).

Use a food processor to finely chop the carrot (or your own determination and knife) and add to the greens. Toss.

In a small, non-stick sauté pan, prepare the gyoza according to package directions, which I’ll include here. Heat the oil over medium high heat and add the gyoza to the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the bottom is browning. Add ¼ cup of water to the pan and quickly cover with a lid. Steam for 4-5 minutes until the gyoza are softened and cooked through.

Sprinkle the peanuts over the top of the salad and place the gyoza on top. Drizzle Sriracha over everything.

Absolutely dig in.

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Real question: should this blog be titled “Sriracha to serve”? Seems that’s at the end of every recipe. Also, I hate how dinner time in the winter means it’s pitch black outside. Try taking a good photo in your dark, poorly lit living room… sigh. At least dinner is good.

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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Roasted Tomato Salsa

It is my genuine belief that if summer in Chicago was a year-round experience, literally the entire population of America would live here. It is absurdly, catch-you-when-you’re-not-expecting-it beautiful, on days when you’re touristing, on days when you’re just walking through the park, on days when you’re stumbling for coffee, even on days when you’re commuting home from work. Contrastingly, though, a full year of Chicago winter would make this place the most desolate waste land south of rural Alaska. I guess that’s why Chicagoans are the only ones who really understand the gravity of the change of seasons for this city. I feel wasteful, napping this gorgeously sunny and clear 75-degree day away, but how can you possibly experience enough, when you stay out late in the cool-but-temperate evening drinking beer at a summer festival bright and loud from happy party-goers? As long as you drive with the windows down, I guess, to and from the places you need to go.

When you’re feeling especially pressed for time, or eager for socialization, dinner is pushed far down on the agenda. My recipes of late promise to be quite quick, not because I don’t find cooking “worth it,” but rather because I’d rather be enjoying this perfect season before it passes. I don’t know the punishment for spending June indoors, but I assume it’s fierce. I’ve actually been grilling out much more often than I ever have, which is an awesome development. Maybe one day I’ll create a grill-worthy recipe, since I’m definitely a novice in that territory. For now, I want to share this salsa, which is the easiest thing ever to make. It’s actually ridiculous that I always buy salsa, when it takes almost no time to pull together and is exponentially more fresh and delicious homemade. It’s great with chips, of course, but also really good on top of the giant salads you’re supposed to be eating now.

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Roasted Tomato Salsa

Makes about 2 cups

5 roma tomatoes, quartered

1 small yellow onion, quartered

2 jalapenos, seeded and halved

1 red bell pepper, quartered

5 cloves garlic, whole

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 cup cilantro

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse and chop vegetables (hold lime and cilantro for later) and toss on a large cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the top and mix the veggies with your hands to coat fully with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the tomatoes have softened and the vegetables are just browning.

Add the vegetables to a large food processor (or add to a large bowl and use an immersion blender). Blend the vegetables to a just chunky puree consistency. Add the lime juice and cilantro and blend again briefly. Taste and season appropriately (you may prefer an additional dash of salt). Store in a large mason jar. Or with a massive pile of chips. Or on top of a cheesy quesadilla. Or as the dressing for your mock-Chipotle salad. In any way, enjoy. This should keep in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

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Delicious serving suggestion.

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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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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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.

 

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

My first post on this blog is for a winter vegetable soup. It’s incredibly delicious, but, to be honest, I came up with that recipe in a I-must-use-up-these-last-vegetables-in-the-fridge scramble. Winter vegetable soup was merely a creative and convenient derivation from my truly favorite soup recipe. This one. I’ve made this soup hundreds of times, and while I initially made a few tweaks here and there, I now never stray. It is my go-to soup, my easy weeknight dinner, and my absolute favorite way to eat a sweet potato. It’s perfect as a meal: a giant bowl, steaming hot, served only with a spoon. It’s wonderful as a side to a grilled cheese sandwich (dipping not optional) or a flavorful salad (pecans, goat cheese, and cranberries anyone?). It’s probably even fine as a snack, although I can’t say I’ve ever eaten a bowl small enough to qualify. This recipe is gluten-free, vegan optional, vegetable heavy, definitely healthy, and deeply satisfying. But it tastes indulgent, creamy, and wonderfully complex. Seriously, I could talk about this for way too long. Make this soup, ASAP. Before you get buried in 3-6 more inches of snow and have to dig your car out at 6am and have to work until past sunset and have to run inside on the treadmill because it’s too cold to be outdoors for more than 2 minutes. Make this soup before you forget why winter is sometimes delightfully cozy and warm.

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup 1

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup 2

 

Sweet and Spicy Curried Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 2-4

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 large sweet potato, diced into 1 inch cubes

1 large carrot, diced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika or chili powder

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Salt & pepper to taste

2 cups vegetable stock

2 tbsp. milk, cream, or coconut milk

Toasted rosemary breadcrumbs (optional)

  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. salt

In a medium saucepan, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and sauté until onions are translucent and lightly browning, about 5 minutes. Add diced garlic and heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add diced sweet potato and spices and stir. Cook spices for about 30 seconds, then add 2 cups vegetable stock (this is an approximation; vegetable stock should be just below covering vegetable mixture). Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until sweet potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooked through, take the soup off the heat. Theoretically, this soup could be eaten chunky; however, I prefer a smooth and creamy soup. Use an immersion blender, food processor, or blender to puree the soup until smooth. Add 1-2 tbsp. cream or coconut milk and blend.

To prepare breadcrumb topping, melt butter in a small frying pan. Add breadcrumbs, chopped rosemary, and salt, and heat until breadcrumbs are browning and toasted. Sprinkle atop soup alongside some smoked paprika.

Other toppings for this soup could include diced avocado, fresh green onions, greek yogurt or sour cream, or croutons. Or, you know, an entire grilled cheese sandwich. Most importantly, though, make sure you have a bowl and spoon big enough to dive in.

 

Mexican-inspired Sweet Potato Bowl

When I buy avocados, I buy a lot of avocados. Once the craving hits, it’s easy to imagine eating an avocado at every meal for days and days. Avocados on toast, avocados on tacos, avocados in smoothies, avocados everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s January, which means avocados are both impractical and not in line with the culinary expectations of the season. Anyways, all of this is to say, I have too many avocados in my refrigerator, just chilling out at perfect ripeness totally ready to eat whenever I feel so inclined. I’ve shoved them aside, grabbing an orange, a carrot, the lettuce, the spinach… and then when finally my produce drawer dwindled to some constant bottom remnants, I found the urge to swing back to a Mexican- flavor-inspired meal. This dinner is pretty much always an option given my pantry and refrigerator staples. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a full jar of rice in the cabinet, and it’s rare not to have a sweet potato or two up on the top shelf. So while a deviation from the standard, unthinking, grab-and-go dinner fare, this is just as quick, just as easy, and probably just as available.  Plus! Look at that. We’re vegan, we-eat-plants people again; how healthy and economically-conscious of us.

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Mexican-inspired Sweet Potato Bowl

Serves 3-4

1 cup brown rice

1 can black beans (or about 1 1/2 cups previously cooked)

1-2 avocados, sliced

3 green onions, sliced thinly

1 large sweet potato, diced into 1 in. cubes

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

While the oven is preheating, bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a small to medium sauce pan. Once water is boiling, add brown rice, stir, and reduce the temperature of the stovetop to low heat. Cover the saucepan and simmer the rice for 25-30 minutes, until water is fully absorbed and the rice is fluffy*.

Toss diced sweet potatoes in olive oil and spices, spread evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until fork-tender and browning, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Slice the avocado and season. Slice the green onions finely and set aside.

Once the sweet potatoes and rice are finished cooking, plate all ingredients together for visual appeal. If you’re like me, though, you want all of these flavors in one bite. If that’s the case, promptly mix all food components into a massive pile and enjoy immensely. Additionally, I know I used a plate for this meal, but I recommend a shallow bowl for neatness when mixing and tossing ingredients together.

This may barely count as cooking, more like preparing with heat, but do not underestimate the delicious contrast between a cool avocado and a spicy, soft-yet-crunchy roasted sweet potato. It’ll have you loading your refrigerator with avocados for weeks.

Brown rice is not always cooked to this ratio or for this exact amount of time, depending on brand and type. Please follow package directions for cooking if dictated otherwise.

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Fish Tacos

Fish tacos. Simple, fresh, delicious fish tacos. I know. It still should be time for soup. It’s some amount of negative degrees outside with extra wind for maximum numbness. I wasn’t supposed to drive to work today, per the meteorologist. I shouldn’t even go outside. Everyone in the education system is laughing at home right now, delighting in the unforeseen frozen temperatures and breaking into another Christmas present, cuddling up with something warm. But, but I want it to be warmer. I want to experience summer time, if only on my palate. I want something fresh and vibrant to lighten up the most gray of all views I’ve ever seen from my window (apartment, car, or otherwise). So I chose fish tacos. The epitome of beach lunches plated on my heavy ceramic serving-ware in my not-quite-heated-enough apartment with wind blistering my window frames. It’s dichotomous. But it’s simple, fresh, delicious… and, darn it, I just want avocados right now.

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Fish Tacos

Serves 4

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb. wild Alaskan cod, marinated

Fish marinade:

  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. chili sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika (or chili powder)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

8 small corn or flour tortillas

2 avocados, sliced

1/4 white or red onion, diced

2 roma tomatoes, diced

Green leaf lettuce, chopped finely (or cabbage)

Spicy aioli:

  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. chili sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of salt and pepper, to taste

The night before serving, prepare fish marinade by combining ingredients above in a lidded jar or bowl, shaking or whisking vigorously to mix. Rinse and pat dry the fish filets, place in a dish with an available lid (I used a pyrex baking pan), and pour the marinade over the cod. Spread the marinade evenly over the filets on both sides, cover with the lid, and refrigerate overnight.

The day of cooking, heat a frying pan over medium heat with EVOO. Saute marinated fish for 5 minutes, flip, then saute for 5 minutes longer, until opaque and flaky. Set aside to rest, then break into bite-sized chunks.

While fish is sautéing, prepare the toppings: slice tomatoes, dice onions, slice avocados, chop lettuce, and prepare the spicy aioli by mixing the aioli ingredients in a small bowl and whisking together until smooth. Heat the tortillas in a frying pan over medium heat for approximately 30 seconds per side, or microwave them between damp towels for about 30 seconds.

Once the fish is rested, prepare your tacos. I prefer to spoon about a 1/2 tbsp. of aioli onto the softened tortilla, then place 3-4 pieces of cod on top. Follow up with a massive pile of toppings, choosing more or less of your favorites for your taco (I always go a little heavy on the avocado). A little Chihuahua cheese would certainly not be remiss here; however, I didn’t have any, and was certainly not braving the sub-zero (really) climates to purchase some. A margarita, though… that may have been a good idea. Surf’s up, Brian; dig in.