Cheers

It has been 363 days since my last blog post, and I’ve decided, at this nearing-one-year mark, that I will continue this investment in sharing the recipes and random thoughts I deem internet-ready. There have been several reasons for my absence, all more or less justifiable and unjustifiable, like being too busy or having only rare recipes worth sharing. In evidence of my excuses, it is true that I’ve since searched for and bought a house, moved in a specifically wonderful roommate, endeavored into the endlessly demanding world of DIY projects, began growing a garden (which has just nearly failed but not entirely and not yet), spent every dollar I’ve made at Home Depot (approximately), did enjoy several small to medium-sized vacations, and cooked almost everyday… things that didn’t seem especially notable.

But when I first started this blog, its intention was to share all of those recipes that I made everyday. I preferred posting about recipes that utilized prevalent pantry items, or involved maybe only 2-3 “new” ingredients, or featured a skill that was actually much simpler than it sounded. After all, this was supposed to be about dinner for Brian, and he’s barely 21. So! With that all in mind, here I come, ready to share on a probably-inconsistent-but-hopefully-relevant basis some things I find delicious and easy and interesting and filling. I even have a taste-tester with whom I share at least 60% of my meals, so in consideration of his sign-off, I have twice the sample size to substantiate my confidence.

This recipe I’m sharing not because it’s astoundingly amazing or challenging (in fact, like most drink recipes, it’s more of a recommendation), but because it makes use of my first-grown vegetable from my garden, the jalapeno! I’m taking this hobby as a point of learning and interest rather than successful product yield, because I am as expected not overwhelmingly talented at gardening. These jalapenos and the (possible) 2 tomatoes I hope to harvest may very well be the only products of my once-was 12-vegetable planter bed. But I’ve researched garden tactics and read almost every pertinent page of the farmer’s almanac, so I’m already feeling excited for the fall growing season. I can’t wait until I’m the most expert elderly woman tending to the community garden following my 50+ years of eventual experience with raised planter beds.

Below is the simplest drink ever, that’s so surprisingly spicy it mandates very small frothy sips, followed by the coolly cleansing taste of fresh watermelon. On Monday, Brian’s 21st birthday, I’ll allow him to try (as he has never had alcohol ever. Of course).

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Watermelon Jalapeno Cooler

Makes 1 glass

1 cup watermelon, cubed, frozen

2 oz jalapeno vodka

  • 1 whole jalapeno, sliced
  • 1 cup vodka (I used Tito’s)

Add the watermelon and jalapeno vodka to a blender and blend until frothy and smooth. Drink and enjoy!

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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!

Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

I’m back from a weekend camping at the Dunes in Indiana, which was a lovely way to start to ease out of summer. We hiked up through mountains of sand, sliding backwards, dogs trailing behind. We somehow couldn’t really keep a fire going, but it was lively long enough to roast hot dogs and make breakfast in the morning. I might not have slept at all on a pile of blankets in the tent, but having returned, I think I’m refreshed all the same. Or, at least my dachshunds are really, really worn out. I’d love to know how many miniature leg steps they logged on that 4 mile dunes walk. There’s probably an interesting niche market for dog pedometers.

While camping, I cooked eggs in a sauté pan over the fire. I sat the pan on a set of logs, probably a bit unstably, but successfully made breakfast all the same. I’m thinking I need a cast-iron skillet camp set for next time, as the bottom of my eggs got a bit burned before it was cooked through. Someday I will be an expert camper. Until then, I use my skillet at home.

This dinner is delicious, easy, and truly different than most things I make. Figs are in season, and I love them, so I bought a large flat a week or so ago. I’d been snacking on them, dipping them in almond butter, but roasting them was another method I hadn’t tried. Chicken thighs, I think, are the best partner for the figs, as they are deeply flavorful and tender. And caramelized onions just always belong. I served this atop a green salad with some mashed potatoes, but any way would be fine. Maybe I am a bit tired… I can’t seem to think of much else to say. Just, make dinner, ok?

Balsamic Roasted Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Figs

Serves 4-6

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

4 tbsp. olive oil, divided

2 yellow onions, sliced into half-moons

8-10 fresh black figs, quartered

Salt & pepper, to taste

Prepare the marinade for the chicken by mixing 2 tbsp. olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Coat the chicken in the marinade, flipping to coat. Marinate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When prepared to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to a cast-iron skillet set over medium-low heat. Caramelize the onions, slowly, stirring occasionally. They will slowly brown and soften in about 20-30 minutes. Once they’ve caramelized, remove the onions from the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken thighs. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until browned, then flip. Once flipped, add the caramelized onions to the pan, lying over the chicken. Add the figs.

Put the cast-iron skillet into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the thighs are cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve.

Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

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

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

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

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

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Greek Chicken Plate with Garlic Cauliflower Rice and Coconut Tzatziki

Serves 2-4

1-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Greek Chicken Marinade

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

1 large head of cauliflower, finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp oregano

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, sliced finely into half-moons

2-4 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Coconut Tzatziki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner for Brian (Literally)

I’ve been in the fortunate circumstance of accommodating my absolute favorite ginger-haired brother for the summer. Outside of affording me the opportunity to actually perform what is the namesake of this blog (cooking dinner for that wonderful Brian, himself), the summer with my brother was a joyful, important experience that’s made me question further the subtitle above. Should I continue cooking from a Chicago (cough, gasp, Evanston) kitchen, or should I finally pursue that oft-wondered ideal of moving to the city from which I left, the state which houses this person himself? I think I have the answer in mind, (and I think many of whoever reads this knows, too), but I’ll segue unglamorously to a humble blog update instead.

I’ve certainly been cooking since last December, and I can’t pinpoint an exact reason why it so abruptly went undocumented. I have saved emails of food photos, recipes jotted in small notebooks, and words never-ending their stream throughout my head. Maybe I was frustrated by the bad lighting of winter. Or maybe I succumbed to that unenjoyable yet praised lifestyle of the “too busy.” It definitely felt like the latter, but what excuse is there to drop enjoyed hobbies? Anyways, I’m not sure how much of what went unwritten I’ll share now, but I do intend to pick up again this semi-daily and/or semi-weekly practice.

I do know that what I made this summer, most often dinners, but occasionally a breakfast or two, was delicious and very much enjoyed by my favorite recipe tester, Brian. He’s not overwhelmingly picky, so I can’t be sure that his endorsement qualifies these recipes as truly outstanding in any way, but now being able to definitively say these meals were raved about by not just myself but two people, I feel ever more confident in sharing. A lot of what I cooked was more meat-heavy than my standard fare, and I think I’m exhausting Trader Joe’s supply of boneless, skinless chicken thighs (seriously so good), but the novelty of new ingredients was more inspiring, really, and brought out a slew of untried but perfectly savory dinners. A few things worth noting and repeating: soft boiled eggs (forever, in everything), coconut-brothed curries, wilted greens, and mashed potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes. Love them as they should be loved.

I’ll hopefully be back again soon with some of these recipes in print and picture. And to be transparent, I’m actually doing (omg) Whole 30 this month, for kicks really, so expect to see recipes which align with those dietary restrictions for a bit (but restrictions be damned; the food is good).

Goodbye to my brother and roommate, but hello, again, to the food which you inspire! (My dachshunds miss you).

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Summer Squash and Potato Gratin

I’m mostly settled into my new apartment after an incredibly effortful weekend of plans and rearrangements and finishing touches. I’m actually sore, which is really embarrassing, and speaks to my otherwise level of inactivity for the past few weeks. My grandparents were here this weekend to help me finalize some things, namely things involving a drill and furniture building. And excitingly, my grandma, in her perfectly grandmotherly ways, brought me an entire picnic basket of fresh vegetables from her and her brothers’ gardens. Squash, zucchini, potatoes, green beans, beautiful tomatoes all rested comfortably together, simply begging for some preparation and timely enjoyment.

On Saturday night, around 7pm, in a hunger-driven panic between Ikea trips and unloading of said Ikea trips and putting together of said Ikea products, I scarfed down half a slice of leftover pizza and a few cookies my grandma had also brought me. I ate said dinner in approximately 3 minutes, while refilling my silverware drawer, and, following this ingestion, realized I thankfully was no longer hungry, so I went upon my way. As things go, my house became a swarm of cardboard and cellophane before becoming marginally more cohesive. Around 11pm I fainted onto my (thankfully) put together daybed, recognized that I was famished, ate some Pringles leftover from last weekend’s bachlorette party, and went to bed.  Needless to say, my first “meals” in this apartment have not been very notable. Or admirable. Or even really food.

Today, I eased into the morning with a nice walk, some reading, coffee, and breakfast. A leisure I haven’t taken in way, way too long. Afternoon involved some more apartment work for a few hours, followed by some cleaning, but today I was going to be put together. Or, at least not eat Pringles for dinner. The vegetables stared at me, quietly reminding me that produce is really only “fresh” for so long. I whipped up a zucchini bread during afternoon projects, which turned out deliciously. However, I for the second time witnessed my oven cooking at clearly far too low a temperature, for while the bread was cooked through to the tip of the toothpick I stabbed it with, a quarter inch of batter-becoming-bread thwarted my product. In plans for dinner, I questioned that I was using the oven again at all. Completely archaic, without a clock, timer, or evidence that digital technology had actually been established at the time of its construction, I could indeed verify it lit and made the oven warm, but I could not know at all at which temperature it was cooking. Given this was my third attempt, I ramped up the temperature even further above recommendation, and, amazingly, dinner turned out beautifully. (Also idiotic, I spent at least 2 hours of today with the oven on, in summer, in an apartment without air conditioning. I’ve been lightly sweating (or profusely so) for 48 hours).

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Breakfast of my dreams: toast with garden tomatoes and over easy eggs, side of French press coffee

So, what did I make? Well, to use in a timely fashion the bountiful summer produce my grandma had provided, I found a recipe for a gratin comprised of summer squash and potatoes. I figured adding a few extra squash would only improve upon the product, and I followed the recipe nearly exactly, exchanging some of the methods here and there to suit my new kitchen. I had no intention of blogging about the final result, because I was moderately convinced I’d retrieve from the oven a soggy, undercooked mess of vegetables. But, as you can clearly tell, it was a huge success! These pictures don’t do justice to the absolute delicious nature of this dish. I already plan to serve this at Thanksgiving, bring it to book club, and somehow offer it to everyone I know. Really. And, better, everything in here is peak-season-perfect. Please, please make this (mom, it’s right up your alley). And for any goat cheese haters (you’re absurd), you could substitute another cheese if you wish.

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Summer Squash and Potato Gratin

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 6… I guess (serves me tops 4 times)

2 medium zucchini

2 medium yellow crookneck squash

1 medium yellow squash

3 medium red potatoes

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. freshly-cracked pepper

1 tsp. dried thyme

4 oz. goat cheese

1/3 cup milk, anything but skim

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (or 425 if you have an ancient oven).

Wash and dry your vegetables thorougly. Start by slicing the potatoes very thinly, about 1/4 – 1/8 inch thickness, taking time to make sure the slices are even. Add the sliced potatoes to a pot of salted water (I add about a 1/2 teaspoon). Bring the water to a boil and boil the potatoes for about 2 minutes, so that they are still firm. Drain the potatoes and add to a large bowl.

Continue slicing the remaining squash (you can use any combination of varieties; this is just what I had on hand) into thin, 1/4 – 1/8 inch thin slices. If you have a mandolin, that’d be great (I don’t). Add the sliced vegetables to the same large bowl. Pour 4 tbsp. olive oil over the vegetables as well as the salt, pepper, and thyme. Gently toss the vegetables to coat (some may break apart a bit, which is fine).

Lightly grease a large, 9 x 13 baking dish with olive oil, and add 1/3 of the vegetable mixture to the dish. Crumble half the goat cheese over the bottom layer of vegetables. Add another 1/3 of the mixture, and, again, top with the remaining goat cheese. Add the final layer of vegetables. Pour the milk evenly over the entire mixture. Sprinkle the top of the vegetables with Parmesan. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the oven.

Bake the dish at 400 degrees Fahrenheit covered for 30-35 minutes. Afterwards, remove the foil and increase the temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the Parmesan cheese top is bubbling and brown. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.

To serve, slice out a portion of the gratin (it slices fairly easily, although will slide around some). Sprinkle torn or chiffonade basil over the top. Wait 2 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth, then dig in.

Longest post ever. Worth it.

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.

 

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

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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