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 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 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.

Inverted Shepherd’s Pie

Or something. Sorry, that’s the closest thing I could come to for a “title” of this dinner. It’s delicious, though? I mean, in a sense, it’s very similar to shepherd’s pie… minus the potatoes, plus some polenta, minus a few veggies, plus a few veggies, served from the stove-top, not baked… it works, I think. In any case, it tastes delicious. It actually reminds me nearly as much of my grandma’s classic creation: hamburger gravy. It sounds kind of gross, to strangers anyways, and actually is ground beef over potatoes (pretty similar to shepherd’s pie as well!), but it was a midwestern classic in a too-many-children household. Ground beef, sautéed with onions, tossed with flour and milk, served over creamy mashed potatoes and corn- it’s definitely comfort food. And no one makes it as well as my grandma, because that’s the kind of food that has to be served by an older relative. Kind of like Bisquick pancakes, some things are just better coming out of grandma’s kitchen. Not to be limited by flour and water, my grandma actually has a great variety of things she loves to cook, and we eat all of it heartily and happily. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her make polenta, though, so from here we diverge.

I think it’s probably obvious now that I am loving polenta. It’s creamy, it’s warm, it’s got just enough flavor to really amplify its corresponding ingredients (rather than just sitting there mashed on the plate), and it’s easy to prepare. I bought probably 2 cups a month or two ago, and it’s gone now, which is saying something for me. Usually I buy bulk grains and use them slowly, in a random pattern, until they’re finally exhausted months later. I suppose I just tire of the same thing too many times in a row. Polenta, though; it’s working for me right now. I guess I need to buy more.

But beyond the polenta, the ground beef in this recipe is really a great accompaniment. With some diced spring vegetables, it’s hearty yet flavorful and fresh. It feels awkward preparing dishes with ground beef, I realized as I thought of what I wanted to do with it besides make a hamburger. It always looks a bit unappetizing in its plain form, and it’s hard not to smother it in sauce and call it a day. Ground beef always seems to be a component of a dish, rather than a main ingredient (excusing said burger). It really doesn’t need too much though, I believe. A few veggies serve the purpose of diversity on the palate, and a hearty starch creates immediate comfort food, regardless of the recipe. Don’t let the pictures deceive you; this tastes more than what it looks.

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Inverted Shepherd’s Pie (I guess)

Serves 4

1 cup polenta

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup milk

2 tbsp. butter

1 lb. grass-fed ground beef

4 spring carrots, diced

4 radishes, sliced into slivers

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. thyme

1/4 tsp. dried red chili flake

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp. corn starch

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp. soy sauce

First, prepare the polenta. Bring 3 cups of stock and 1 cup milk, whisked, to a boil. Once boiling, add the polenta to the pot while whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until the polenta is suspended in the liquid, ever so slightly thickened. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 30-45 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Whisk every few minutes initially, then stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. As noted before, the polenta may be “done” a bit earlier, but cooking longer yields deeper flavor. Once cooked, add 2 tbsp. of butter, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir into the polenta. Keep covered and set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the carrots and onions until they’re just softened and the onions are translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add the radishes and stir. Add the ground beef to the pan and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, chili flake, and salt and pepper to taste and stir. In a mason jar, add the corn starch, 1/2 cup of stock, and soy sauce. Shake to combine. (Alternatively, whisk in a bowl). Pour the thickened stock over the meat and vegetables and bring to a boil. Let the stock reduce until thick and adherent to the meat and veggies. Remove from the heat.

Plate a serving of polenta and top with the meat and vegetable mixture. Something about carrots and radishes makes it feel French to me somehow, with an obvious Italian (polenta) influence. Maybe it’s just European. Maybe it’s a mish-mash. Either way: it’s good.

 

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Kale and Parmesan Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

More sweet potatoes! When I’m at the grocery store, I always grab a couple of sweet potatoes. To use in soup, to cube up for a hash with eggs, to make sweet potato fries; there’s a never-ending number of ways to use them up. So, naturally, I had a few left in the cabinet this week, and I decided to try something new. My dad loves to make twice baked potatoes. Loaded with cheese, bacon, sour cream, and salt, they’re far from healthy, but they’re a delicious component to his occasional dinner spread, which he puts out once or twice a year. This option is a bit on the healthier side, swapping white potatoes for sweet potatoes, cutting the cheese and butter count, and nixing the bacon for crunchy kale (I think I also have a kale problem; I love it so much). But these twice baked sweet potatoes still have the delectably crunchy skin, and they serve as a unique change of pace for dinner. They’re also fairly quick to come together if you’ve already baked the sweet potatoes ahead of time; however, I rarely think that far ahead, so an easier way to prepare these is to get them fully baked and ready, slide them into the fridge, and twice bake them the next day or on the day of eating. This arrangement makes them great for potluck parties or really any sort of celebration where it’s nice to have things almost fully done ahead of time. Or it’s good for your lonely plate with a side of salad; we can’t all have dinner parties all the time. I’m looking forward to the leftovers today.

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Kale and Parmesan Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Serves 2-4

2 large sweet potatoes

3 cups kale, chopped into ribbons

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Poke a few holes in the side of the sweet potatoes (I used a fork and poked along the midline so the holes would “disappear” once the potatoes were cut in half). Place the sweet potatoes in the oven directly on the rack, with a sheet pan a rack below to catch any drippings. Bake the sweet potatoes for approximately 1 hour, or until completely fork tender.

Allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly, then, using a sharp knife, slice the sweet potatoes length-wise into two halves. Scoop out the sweet potato filling into a large bowl, careful not to rip the skin too much. Place the skins in a baking dish and set aside. Mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher. Add the cream and butter and mix thoroughly until the sweet potatoes are smooth and creamy.  Add 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese and mix.

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kale ribbons and sauté until softened and bright green, maintaining their crunch slightly. To the bowl of sweet potatoes, add sautéed kale and mix together. Scoop the sweet potato and kale mixture into the cooled potato skins, forming a heaping mound in each. Top each sweet potato half with the remaining 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese. At this point, the sweet potatoes can be refrigerated for a day or two until use.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the baking dish of sweet potatoes into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the edges of the skin are just crisping. After 30 minutes, turn off the oven and turn on the broiler. Broil the sweet potatoes for 2-5 minutes, until the parmesan cheese on top is melting and browned. Remove the pan from the oven, allow to cool slightly, and serve. These can be picked up and eaten by hand, or sliced easily with a fork. A side of salad rounds out the meal nicely- the one below just mixed greens dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and roasted pecans. Or, serve these up at a party and watch them disappear!

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An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 2: Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

So you’re off to a great start for dinner: you’ve eaten a massive amount of guacamole, and you’ve sipped greedily on delicious sangria. But now it’s time to feast! I decided to make two types of enchiladas, primarily because I wanted to try out two different recipes. The vegetable enchiladas were significantly more labor intensive; however, they have the benefit of being vegetarian, (possibly) gluten-free, and (almost) every-other-dietary-restriction acceptable (vegan if you skip the cheese, which I’ve done previously. You don’t miss it if you pile on the guac to serve!). I’m not any of these things, but I do appreciate vegetables (massively so), and I like the idea behind making something a bit more non-traditional. To appease classic tastes, I also prepared (incredibly tasty) chicken enchiladas, which were simpler, more quickly prepared, and an all-around hit, so I’ll share those tomorrow. The vegetables in these enchiladas are pretty acceptable year-round, although I suppose fresh summer squash and corn could amp up the flavor a bit. Roasting and sautéing the vegetables imparts a more dramatic flavor, which sufficiently minimizes any “blandness” due to out-of-season ingredients. And, finally, we’re wrapping up all these veggies in a corn tortilla, smothering them in salsa, and baking them with cheese. Should we really be worried about anything?

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Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

Makes about 24 enchiladas; Serves 12

24 corn tortillas

12 oz. manchego cheese, freshly shredded

Roasted Tomato and Chile Salsa

  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 2 packages/cartons grape tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet onion, quartered
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 large lime, juiced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

2 bell peppers, diced (any color)

1 jalapeno, diced

3 zucchini, diced

5 oz. shitaki mushrooms, diced

5 oz. cremini mushrooms, diced

2 cups frozen corn

3 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tbsp. chile sauce

6 tbsp. all-purpose flour or cornstarch

4 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the salsa, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, toss vegetables with grapeseed oil and spices (leave out lime juice and cilantro). Pour the bowl’s contents onto the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are browned around the edges. Once roasted, add the roasted vegetables to a food processor with lime and cilantro and blend until smooth. If your food processor is too small, blend in batches. Alternatively, you could use a blender or immersion blender. This salsa can be made days in advance and should be kept in the refrigerator.

If you’d rather save some time the night of cooking, dice/chop/prepare all the vegetables used for enchiladas the day before. They will keep well stored in individual containers in the refrigerator. This prep time is not to be dismissed; I believe I was chopping for well over 30 minutes. I’d highly recommend having everything prepared beforehand!

The day of cooking, heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or VERY large pot over medium heat. Sauté garlic for about 20 seconds, until just fragrant. Add onions, peppers, jalapeno, and zucchini to the pot and sauté until softened (time will depend on cooking vessel; I’d estimate about 10 minutes). Add mushrooms and sauté until softened and just releasing their juices, about 10 minutes longer. Pour in spices and chile sauce and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle flour over the vegetable mixture, and stir until flour has combined and cooked, about 3 minutes.  Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Or, if using cornstarch, mix cornstarch in about 1 cup of stock, whisking to combine. Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and, while stirring, add cornstarch-stock slurry and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the temperature and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Add frozen corn, stir, and heat for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add chopped cilantro, and stir. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour an even layer of about 1/2 cup of salsa into the bottom of two 13×9 baking pans (I used glass pyrex). Now, set up your work station. The corn tortillas require heating on a skillet for about 20 seconds per side before use. I used a large griddle to heat multiple tortillas at once (with the help of my roommate preparing the chicken enchiladas simultaneously). I found working with about 2 heating tortillas was most efficient without burning or waiting. Next to the griddle or skillet, keep a large bowl filled with the salsa nearby. Have a large spoon ready in the vegetable mixture, and keep the shredded manchego cheese a quick reach away. To prepare each enchilada, heat a tortilla until softened. Dip in salsa on both sides, then let rest in the enchilada pan. Fill with about 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture, then top with about 1 tbsp. of manchego cheese. Roll the tortilla tightly and move to the furthest corner of the pan. Repeat this process 23 times. I found about 12 tortillas fit in a 13×9, with a row of 10 running longitudinally, and 2 fitting transverse across the bottom of the pan. Once the enchiladas are all rolled and squished together, top with another 1/2 cup of salsa per pan and a thorough sprinkle of manchego cheese (may as well use it all!). I had some leftover vegetable mixture (as I only made 18 enchiladas), so I added some of that to the top as well.After this, your hands will be a sticky mess of sauce, salsa, and cheese, but nothing a quick hand wash can’t handle.

Place the pans side-by-side in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. I made these at the same time as two equally-sized pans of chicken enchiladas, so I rotated all 4 pans twice during cooking. Once the cheese has melted, the sauce is bubbly, and the entire floor of your condo building smells like mexican food, the enchiladas are done.

I don’t have a photograph of the finished product, because I slipped these into the oven after guests had arrived, and within minutes of being done they were somehow gone entirely. These can be eaten as is, unadorned, or topped with anything from a fresh squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro, guacamole, or sour cream. I’ve said these are labor intensive, but they are so delicious, so flavorful, and so worth it. They absolutely should be dinner for Brian.

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.

Orange Soy Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry

Who’s craving vegetables? I am. I am craving vegetables, hard. As plate upon plate of cookies, treats, sweets, candies, and sugar-laced-foods have passed recently under my nose, I am suddenly unable to tolerate the idea of one more cookie, brownie, or otherwise. It’s time to correct the sweets binge with loads upon loads of savory, salted vegetables- mixed up quickly, as I’m still feeling the end-of-the-year laziness. If you’re ready for a quick yet satisfying dinner, served hot over rice, stir fry is the obvious choice. It comes together over high heat in minutes, brings full servings of vegetables to your dinner plate, and appeases that quirky need for salty umami flavors. You could make this yourself, Brian, once you master mis en place.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Orange Soy Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry

Serves 4

1 tbsp. olive oil or grapeseed oil (or other high-heat-compatible oil, not EVOO)

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced into 1 in. cubes (or 1 block tofu for a vegetarian option)

1 crown broccoli, chopped into florets

1 package snow peas (about 2-3 cups)

5 oz. package white button mushrooms, sliced

5-6 green onions, sliced

1/4 cup soy sauce

Juice of 1/2 an orange*

1 tbsp. sriracha sauce

1 tbsp. olive oil or grapeseed oil

2 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Brown rice, to serve

First, prepare the orange soy sauce. In a lidded jar or bowl, mix together (vigorously, by shaking or whisking) soy sauce, orange juice, sriracha, oil, brown sugar, cornstarch, and spices. Set aside sauce for later use.

Slice mushrooms, chop broccoli, slice green onions, and dice chicken before turning on the skillet. Heat a large skillet or wok over high/ medium-high heat and add 1 tbsp. oil. Add chicken to the skillet and saute, stirring regularly to brown all sides, approximately 5 minutes. Once chicken is cooked through, remove from the pan and set aside. Add sliced mushrooms to the skillet and season lightly with salt. Let brown for 2-3 minutes, then stir and continue cooking, for about 5 minutes total. Add snow peas and broccoli crowns and mix thoroughly. Stir regularly over high heat until vegetables are bright green and somewhat softened, about 3-5 minutes longer.

Return chicken to the skillet and pour orange soy sauce over the chicken and vegetable mixture. Stir and allow sauce to thicken by cooking over high heat for 2-3 minutes, until desired consistency. Plate chicken and vegetable stir fry over a small heap of brown rice, and sprinkle green onions over the dish. Serve hot, and enjoy a delectable and delightfully healthy dinner.

* Enjoy the other half of the orange as a cooking-dinner snack, sliced soccer game style