a twist on tradition

Thanksgiving is incontrovertibly a time to hold fast to tradition. Although our family is an experimental and innovative bunch in the kitchen, we’ll be damned if Aunt Susan’s broccoli casserole, mom’s sausage and parmesan stuffing, and the corn thing aren’t on the table year after year. But every now and then we take liberty to make little tweaks on tradition. The one I made this Thanksgiving brought together two traditional dishes—my mom’s pumpkin pie and my great grandmother’s flan—to create a new dessert that just may have forged a new tradition for years to come.
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My great grandmother, Mamamama (actually my papa’s mama’s mama), was an incredible cook. Although I was too young when she passed away to remember her dishes myself, stories of her homemade dulce de leche and stacks of her elegantly handwritten recipes keep her memory alive. Of all her specialties, the recipe I hear about most is her flan, which uses cream cheese to make an even more decadent version of this sugary, smooth, and creamy Cuban dessert.
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I made a version of Mamamama’s flan for a potluck dinner right before heading home for Thanksgiving. With a new dessert to add to our usual spread on the brain, the idea to make a pumpkin flan in lieu of traditional pumpkin pie came to mind. Apparently in Florida, I’m not alone on the pumpkin flan (or flan de calabaza) train.

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I made a bold move that I’m not sure Mamamama would approve of, but certainly my medical colleagues would: substituting an entire can of sweetened condensed milk (fear not, there was still an entire can included!) for a can of pumpkin puree and tossed in some dashes of pumpkin pie spice. What emerged was a delicate, silky, decadent, yet light custard. The warmth of the spices played perfectly with the burnt sugar topping, and the smoothness of the filling was quite reminiscent of pumpkin pie, so as not to completely trump Thanksgiving tradition.
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I’m thankful that the main meal filled everyone up too much so that there was at least a quarter of the flan leftover for me to enjoy for days to come—and I think with time, it only got better. So while we may stand our ground in disallowing certain dishes to never fade from our Thanksgiving smorgasbord, I think this pumpkin flan, new to the table yet steeped in tradition, just may have earned its spot in our repertoire.

Pumpkin Flan
adapted from Mamamama

2/3 cup sugar

1 tbsp water

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

1 5 oz can evaporated milk

1 15 oz can pumpkin puree

4 eggs

zest of one lemon

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9” round pie or cake pan.

To make caramel topping: Place 2/3 cup sugar and 1 tbsp water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is melted and golden brown. This will take about 5-7 minutes. Be careful to not burn it, which can happen quickly! Pour caramel into greased pan.

Place cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, and spices into a blender. Mix on high speed until completely smooth (Mamamama said 5 minutes, but I think the blenders of today are a little more powerful, so much less time is needed).

Pour batter into pan over caramel mixture. Place pan into larger round or rectangular baking dish and fill with hot water halfway up side of pan to create water bath. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until mixture barely jiggles in center when pan is moved. Remove from oven, take pan out of water bath and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool to room temperature and then wrap with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Refrigerate at least 12 hours, preferably overnight.

Before serving, loosen edge of flan with a knife and invert onto a platter (choose one with a good rim, as the caramel should drip along the sides!) Buen provecho!

calling for your help: a healthy, budget-friendly recipe project

Hello! How’s your October going? This month I’ve had the wonderful luxury of time to pursue endeavors that I had placed on the back-burner for a bit, and one of these is getting back to a project I’ve been working on throughout med school—something I’d like to share with you and invite you to get involved.IMG_0783

At my med school, every student chooses a longitudinal project to pursue. These range anywhere from work in basic science labs to investigations abroad. My interests landed me in the realm of community health, and furthermore, my love for cooking, nutrition, and making healthy food accessible gave me the inspiration to create a healthy cooking resource for community members in the South Side of Chicago, an area disproportionately affected by obesity and obesity-related illness and under-resourced in terms of access to healthy foods. But before I could create a recipe resource, I wanted to find out what assets, needs, and desires actually existed in the community. To do this, I interviewed community members about what and how they cook, what they like to eat, where they shop for groceries, and what they would find helpful in a healthy cooking resource. From this, I received a wealth of information regarding people’s food habits, a lot of wonderful stories about favorite dishes and kitchen memories, and most excitingly, found there were a strong interests in cooking and obtaining a healthy, budget-friendly resource of recipes.

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Now armed with this firsthand knowledge and a list of hundreds of dishes, I’m onto phase two of the project: writing up recipes that honor people’s food preferences and cooking styles and use ingredients that are readily available and affordable in grocery stores in the area. Much as I love to cook and conjure new creations, I know there is a talented pool of cooks out there, and the power of our combined efforts is greater than anything I could ever do alone.

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So, I’d love your help! If you have any favorite healthy, budget-friendly, quick-and-easy recipes, send them my way! There are also interests in diabetic-friendly, low-sodium, and kid-friendly recipes. I’m compiling recipes onto a nutrition-focused site, and of course, anything you send will be credited.

As a starting point, here’s a recipe I tested last night: Zucchini Noodle-less Lasagna, which replaces pasta sheets with zucchini slices, ricotta with cottage cheese, and packs a punch of spinach. At 120 calories, 12g of protein, 9g of carbohydrates, and 91 cents per serving, this certainly fits the bill of health and budget-friendliness.

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Here’s to putting our creative minds and cooking talents together! You can send me any of your recipes, thoughts, or ideas to joanna.perdomo@gmail.com.

Zucchini Noodle-less Lasagna
Makes 15 servings
5 medium zucchini

10 oz frozen spinach
24 oz 2% cottage cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (recipe below)*
Slice zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Sprinkle lightly with salt and place in a colander to drain for 20 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.
Meanwhile, thaw spinach according to package directions. Combine thawed spinach with cottage cheese, basil, and oregano.
Preheat oven to 425F. Line a 9×13 baking pan with foil or lightly grease with cooking spray. Place 1/2 cup of tomato sauce into the pan and spread it out evenly. Place 1/3 of the zucchini slices in single strips to form one layer across pan. Spread half of the cottage cheese mixture on top of the zucchini slices. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese. Layer an additional 1/2 cup of tomato suace, 1/3 of zucchini slices, remaining cottage cheese, and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and 1/3 cup of mozzarella cheese. For final layer, use remaining sauce, zucchini, and parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.
Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes. Uncover and broil on HIGH for 5 minutes until top is slightly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
*May also use prepared canned or jarred tomato sauce. Try to choose a low sodium version if available.
Tomato Sauce
Courtesy of Laura Cohen
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh basil, thinly sliced, or 1 tbsp dried basil
1 clove garlic finely chopped or 2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flake
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper
sugar (optional)
Place olive oil, basil, garlic, and red pepper flake into a large pot or dutch oven and heat on low, simmering for 10-15 minutes and stirring often (careful not to burn garlic!). Add diced onion and carrot to olive oil mixture and saute for 15-20 minutes on medium-low heat until softened. Add crushed tomatoes and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Simmer for 20-30 minutes on medium-low heat and adjust seasoning according to taste. Remove from heat and use for lasagna recipe, or store for later use!

 

saturday night supper

The time has come to share a beloved sugarcured tradition with you: Saturday Night Supper.

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For the past year, we’ve spent a good chunk of our Saturday nights—many of them coming on the heels of a weary week on the wards or on the cusp of a challenging couple days ahead—preparing simple, bountiful, and beautiful feasts. Sometimes, friends gather with us around the table. More often than not, it ends up just being the two of us, sharing our joys, stresses, and life musings as we chop, fry, sample, plate, and savor the night away.

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From our humble Hyde Park kitchens, we’ve globe trotted on these Saturday nights. We spent a lot of time in the Middle East, fueled by an Ottolenghi obsession. We tried our hand at tapas. We celebrated our roots with Iowa produce and Cuban black beans.

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With the end of third year in June and the start of what has definitely been a much more socially freeing fourth year, one might have thought that Saturday Night Suppers would morph into Saturday nights on the town. But the tradition has held strong, a testament to the allure and satisfaction of bringing friends around the table to share in good food.

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And so here is our latest rendition: Taco Night.  In usual Saturday Night Supper fashion we went a little overboard, but that only means more leftovers to enjoy throughout the week. Roasted carrots and sweet potatoes, drunken black beans, cabbage slaw, roasted corn and poblano salad, pickled red onions, feta, salsa, avocado, lime, all (barely) piled into corn tortillas. Chicago has some amazing taquerias, but these gave them a run for their money.

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Smoky and Spicy Sweet Potatoes and Carrots:

2 large sweet potatoes

2 carrots

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp cumin

dash of cinnamon (or cinnamon sugar)

squirt of sriracha

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450. Slice carrots into 1/4 thick coins and dice sweet potatoes into 1/4 inch thick cubes. Toss in a bowl with remaining ingredients. Lay on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until soft but still retaining a bite, stirring about 20 minutes through.

Roasted Corn:

4 ears sweet corn, husked and cleaned

1 small jalapeno, chopped finely

1/2c finely grated parmesan or other salty cheese

juice of two limes

1T butter

Roast corn in the oven at 450 degrees or on grill until it just starts to char. Cool just enough to cut off the cob and mix with all other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Drunken Black Beans: used this recipe, minus the orange and smoked paprika given all the other flavors going on

Green Onion Slaw: from a beloved Smitten Kitchen fav. Substituted greek yogurt for the mayo.

To assemble, serve with: Corn tortillas, diced avocado, salsa, cilantro, lime. A big bowl of watermelon was the perfect refreshing antidote to the all the spice.

No cheese? Who cares!

A guest post brought to you by my beautiful, creative, and talented cousin Ali.
I am in my early 30s and about a year or so ago I started to develop really bad adult acne. I was never a porcelain-skinned girl to begin with; I always had an annoying “zit” here or there that needed to be zapped and dealt with. But this! This was different. Deep, painful and embarrassing, I suddenly found myself with 2 kids and a face that resembled a 14 year old. My cheeks were swollen, red and ugly, my bathroom was full of lotions and potions from the drugstore and my excessively expensive dermatologist, and (even though I have a loving hubby who doesn’t care what my skin is doing) my self esteem was slowly sinking. I’d had enough.  ​
​Something had to change.
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And then the question…my mom was at her Esthetician and after describing my inflamed cheeks, jaw, chin and neck, asked her opinion​​ on what I should do. Without blinking she asked my mom,”Does she eat cheese?”​ “Yes,” my mom replied. “Tell her to STOP. She’s allergic”. And it all made sense. All the women, and lots of the men, in my family fall somewhere on the spectrum of lactose intolerance…myself included. If it upset my insides why wouldn’t it upset my outsides. The skin is the largest organ in the body after all. So there it was – an answer – but I LOVE CHEESE! I mean I! LOVE! CHEESE!!! Love. Love Love.
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But I did it, I gave it a go, and to my astonishment, gone went my acne. Not gone gone. Not yet. But over the 4 weeks or so that I have drastically decreased my lovely, delicious gift from the cows I can see improvement. I have to confess it is indeed working. So, sadly, I say a sad goodbye to my love affair with cheese (oh feta how I miss thee) and anything cheesy and set off for a future of clearer skin! Since I am not a big meat-eater and need protein from somewhere (as do my kids and carnivore hubby) I have started hunting for filling, healthy, dairy-free dinners.
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This is the bowl I made tonight. A bowl full of flavor and nutrients. I kept the ingredients simple as to not meld too many flavors. I wanted to taste the whole foods…and they were delicious. I even texted the hubby, after I sampled the sauce with a bit of noddle, to inquire when he would be home, and then swallowed the accumulating drool in my mouth as we awaited his arrival for the next 45 min. The flavor of the sauce is bold and slightly salty with a pop of garlic (which is raw. Read: good for you!) but not overpowering while allowing the flavors of the roasted veggies to come through. My 2-year-old son spent the meal requesting “more sauce please” and had seconds of everything. All the parts are made separately and can be stored in the fridge for a few days. This would be an excellent prepare-the-night-before dish or something to dig into for a few days of lunches. It can be served cold or warm and you can add whatever veggies you prefer. The original recipe was only for cauliflower, which I love for its earthy flavor, but I have an obsession with roasting brussels sprouts, so those had to go in. You can also add chopped red peppers, raw sugar snap peas, carrots, sunflower seeds, etc. The soba noodles can also be replaced with quinoa, rice, or any grain you desire.
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This was a delicious, easy dinner. I look forward to my leftovers. And I did not even miss the cheese.
Enjoy! -Ali
Soba Noodle Bowl With Miso Tahini and Roasted Veggies
8 oz buckwheat soba noodles
2 cups cooked brown or green lentils
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into medium-sized florets- bottoms trimmed and cut into quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil for roasting plus more for kale
1 bunch of kale
juice 1/4-1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh black pepper
Sesame Seeds to garnish
For the dressing:
1/4 cup mellow white miso
1/4 cup tahini
1 cloves garlic
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup waterOptional: fresh herbs for garnish (dill, cilantro and parsley…) I used parsley. I also intended to add some uncooked  julienned carrots (for an added crunch and vitamins) but I forgot.Cook the lentils if you don’t already have prepared ones (1 cup dry is about 2 cups cooked.)

Cook soba noodles according to the package. Rinse with cold water to avoid sticking (rinse the pot with cold water too to cool) and return noodles to the pot.

Toss the cauliflower and brussels sprouts the with the olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and lay on a large rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring once half-way through, until they are cooked and nicely toasted.

Place chopped kale in a bowl and add enough olive oil to lightly coat (about 1 tsp), the lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Mix or massage into the kale.

In the meantime, place all dressing ingredients in a small blender. An immersion blender worked great. Start with 1/2 cup water, and then add another 1/4 to thin, if you like.

Assemble the bowl:
Divide soba noodles into big bowls. Top with lentils, roasted veggies, kale and plenty of sauce. Garnish with herbs and sesame seeds and serve! Enjoy.

summer of simplicity

This summer, my cooking and eating have been all about simplicity. I spent the month of July living in a hotel room on a busy rotation, but had the benefit of having an amazing farmers’ market take place outside the hotel doors every Saturday morning. I took full advantage of the summer’s bounty and the 2×3 square feet of counter space I had to make vibrant salads filled with fresh corn, tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers. It never ceases to amaze me how little effort is required to enjoy such delicious food when it’s at its season’s peak.
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Even though I’m back to the comforts of my kitchen, the warm weather and abundant produce are making me crave nothing more than fresh fruits and vegetables (and the more-than-occasional ice cream sundae). I’ve made many variations on this salad throughout the summer, but here’s the most recent iteration, which featured fresh corn, juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, and creamy avocado. I love an herby punch and put generous handfuls of dill, mint, and basil in the salad, crumbled in tangy feta, and dressed it all with a combo of lemon, olive oil, and honey mustard. It lasts in the fridge for about 3-4 days, and while great on its own, was also delicious combined with cooked lentils or canned beans, pairs beautifully with salmon, and makes a great portable lunch stuffed into a pita pocket with hummus and greens.
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Here’s to the summer (and to more frequent postings—I promise!)
Summer Simplicity Salad
3 ears of corn, husks removed, kernels cut off
5-6 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 medium English cucumber, diced
1 large avocado, diced
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup basil, chopped
1/2 cup dill, chopped
1/2 cup mint, chopped
Dressing:
2 lemons, juiced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey mustard
salt and pepper
Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients until well combined. Pour over vegetable/herb mix and toss evenly to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
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doing s’more grilling

Happy Memorial Day! Happy start to all things summery finally popping up around here! I nearly shed tears of joy when I found myself breaking a sweat while laying outside and needing to run into the shade to protect my bare feet from scorching on my friend’s sun-soaked balcony, which is where I found myself this afternoon for a lovely BYO cookout hosted by my grillmastering friend Sarah.

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We were encouraged to BYO-anything that would be made more delicious by a stint atop her grill. Naturally, my sugarcured mind went the dessert route, inspired by this decadent recipe for Grilled Banana S’mores that I came across over the weekend. Nothing screams summer and cookouts more than s’mores, but stuffing graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate into an ooey gooey banana shell… now that just screamed “Joanna, you must make me now!”

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The process was incredibly easy: take back a thin strip of peel, scoop out about 1/3 of the banana (freeze the extra for smoothies!), and pile the banana shell with mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, and bits of graham cracker. Wrap the masterpiece in foil, throw it on the grill for a few minutes, and open it up to find yourself a soft, melty, and decadent dessert. Although unnecessary, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream sent these Grilled Banana S’mores to even greater heights.

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This technique is endlessly adaptable to different fillings: chocolate+hazelnuts, peanut butter+marshmallow, brown sugar+cinnamon+walnuts. I can envision laying out a bunch of toppings and hosting an interactive make-your-own-grilled-stuffed-banana party, and I’d venture to guess this would be a real hit with kids too! Thankfully, we have a whole summer ahead of us to make these visions come to life…

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Grilled Banana S’mores (from Neighbor Food blog)

Recipe for 1 banana. Depending on how hungry your guests are, plan on 1/2 to 1 banana per person.

1 banana

1 tbsp marshmallows

1/2 tbsp chocolate chips

1 graham cracker, broken into small bits

Other topping ideas: peanut butter, hazelnuts, jam, chocolate candy bars, toffee bits, butterscotch, dulce de leche, cinnamon, brown sugar… go wild!

Heat grill.* Peel back a thin strip of the banana peel without removing it completely. Scoop out about 1/3 of the banana and set aside to save for a later day. Fill the cavity you’ve created with marshmallows, chocolate chips, and graham cracker bits. Place strip of peel back over banana. Wrap the entire banana tightly in foil. Place on the hot grill for 12 minutes, turning occasionally, until marshmallows and chocolate are melty. Unwrap and enjoy on it’s own or a la mode!

*Although I haven’t tried this yet, if it wasn’t grilling weather, this could easily be done over a gas stove or roasted in the oven at 350 for 12-15 minutes!

doctored up

I was never a ketchup kid. Nope, for little me, it was all about the honey mustard. It was the tried and true companion to my childhood favorites: Chili’s Chicken Crispers, Hungry Bear subs (shout out to my Kendall peeps!), and my mom’s chef’s salads. Creamy, tangy, and sweet, honey mustard is hard not to love. But much as I love it, I’ve also come to realize that it isn’t the healthiest of condiments, often mayo-based and with a hefty load of sugar. Sorry kid-self, but your quasi-adult self was in need of a more nutritious, but just as delicious, honey mustard remix.

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Enter my doctored up and future-doctor-approved version, which uses the almighty power of Greek yogurt to impart all the creaminess and tanginess that makes honey mustard so delectable, with a fraction of the fat and calories, and a whopping serving of protein to boot. This would be great as a dip for veggies or baked fries, as a salad dressing, atop grilled chicken or seafood, or heck, just right off the spoon! Last week, I incorporated it into a filling lunch salad featuring kale, roasted sweet potatoes, pistachios, and avocados (recipe below). I hope you find lots of ways to dip into this delicious dressing!

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Honey Mustard Dressing

1 cup Greek yogurt

2 tbsp mustard (dijon or coarse grain)

1 tbsp honey

1 lemon, juiced

2 tsp orange or apricot marmalade (optional, but might add an extra tsp of honey if you leave it out)

Mix all ingredients together. Use as desired.

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Honey Mustard Kale and Sweet Potato Salad

2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

1 bunch kale, washed, stemmed, and leaves torn into bite size pieces

1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled into ribbons

1 medium seedless cucumber

¼ cup pistachios

Honey Mustard Dressing (recipe above)

2 avocados, diced

Preheat oven to 450. Toss diced sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange in single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and slightly golden in some spots.

Wash kale, remove stems, and tear leaves into bite sized pieces. Place them into a large bowl. When sweet potatoes are done, pour the hot potatoes over the kale and toss so that the leaves wilt a bit. Add carrots cucumber, pistachios, and honey mustard dressing and toss until well combined. If serving immediately, toss in diced avocado. If planning to store, add diced avocado fresh to each portion.

 

recreation

When I go out to eat, I generally seek food that I wouldn’t cook myself, either due to lack of expertise, hard-to-find ingredients, or knowledge that I would balk at the idea of actually putting the right amount of butter into that cinnamon roll I had for brunch this Sunday… But sometimes, a restaurant dish so fresh and delicious graces my palate that I am flooded with the desire to recreate it. This happened a few weeks ago in New York City. I was there with my family celebrating the wedding of a dear family friend. On Sunday night, after the wedding festivities had come to a close and before I boarded the plane to head back west, my parents and I dined at Kefi, a Greek restaurant in the Upper West Side that we had been to on prior visits, and that never disappointed. On their specials menu that night was the Cypriot Salad: a melange of bulgur wheat, lentils, dried apricots, dates, pistachios, red onion, red pepper, pistachios, and smoked almonds. Although I’m usually guilty of indecisiveness when it comes to ordering, I knew in a heartbeat that this salad had to be a part of our meal.
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When it arrived at our table, a generous portion piled high in the center of a plate, I dug in and swooned. This salad was something special. Hearty yet light, fruity yet smoky, rustic yet elegant. I loved it so much that my parents, recognizing the gusto with which I was enjoying it, ordered a second Cypriot Salad to-go for me to take back to Chicago. Quite the parting gift!
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Back in Chicago, I donned my finest food detective hat and dissected apart this salad, meticulously deciphering what herb each of the little green flecks represented and writing out a list of suspected ingredients. This weekend I finally came around to bringing it to life. In spite of my sleuth work, I ended up using the exact ingredient makeup from Kefi as a springboard, combining it with some always-welcome inspiration from Ottolenghi’s green couscous recipe, and adding a bit of my own flair to create a twist on the Cypriot Salad that I am eager to share.
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Don’t be deterred by the long ingredient list! I promise you, it’s worth it. Each grain, fruit, nut, and spice adds a unique layer of flavor and texture that make this salad so complex and delicious. Perhaps the best part of all is that bringing this to life in my kitchen afforded me the opportunity to relive that wonderful trip and to relish, cherish, and recreate the beautiful moments spent with family, friends, and good food.
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A Twist on Kefi’s Cypriot Salad (with inspiration from Ottolenghi)
Lentils:
1 cup lentils
2 1/2 cups water
Bulgur and Dried Fruit: 
3/4 cup bulgur wheat

1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/3 cup pitted dates, chopped
2 cups nearly boiling water
Caramelized Shallots: 
1 tbsp olive oil
3 large shallots, sliced
1 jalapeno, finely diced
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Remaining ingredients:
3-4 oz arugula
1 lemon, zest and juice
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
2 tbsp tarragon, chopped
2 tbsp dill, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
drizzle of honey
salt and pepper to taste
Bring lentils and 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil and cook, covered, for 40 minutes, until lentils are tender but not mushy. Remove from heat when done.
While lentils are cooking, place bulgur wheat, dates, and apricots into a glass bowl. Heat 2 cups of water until almost boiling (on stove or in microwave). Pour hot water over the bulgur and fruit and cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap.  Allow to absorb the water for 20-30 minutes, until bulgur wheat is tender and most of the water is absorbed. Drain any excess water.
As bulgur soaks, prepare the caramelized shallots and jalapeno. Heat 1 tsbp olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Saute shallots in oil for 7-10 minutes, until caramelized and beginning to brown. Add jalapeno, sugar, and smoked paprika, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

To assemble, place arugula and lemon zest in a large bowl. Pour warm lentils, bulgur and dried fruit mixture, shallot and jalapeno mixture, and remaining ingredients over the arugula. Toss until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed (I ended up adding in a dash more of smoked paprika and red wine vinegar, but tweak as you wish!)

renewal

I woke up this morning, and the first thing I wanted to do was write this post. It’s going to be short and sweet because my mom and Aunt Susan are in town and I don’t want to waste a moment of precious time with these beautiful young ladies. But I want to hereby commit to a revival of sugarcured writings, recipes, and musings on food, health, travel, and staying balanced. The past three months since I’ve written (oddly enough it’s been exactly three months to the date!) have had their struggles, what with a statistically and subjectively awful winter, hotel living for six weeks straight, and the general grind that is inherent to the third year of med school. They’ve also afforded me the amazing opportunity to travel along the East Coast to visit dear family and friends during spring break, all the while sharing some of the best meals of my life with them. And perhaps just as exciting, with two months left of this school year, I’m getting that much closer to pinning down what I want to be when I grow up. However, quality time spent in the kitchen has been sparse. With spring—my favorite season of all—making its first attempts to emerge in Chicago, and with the start of a new quarter century of my life (eek!), I am both sensing and committing to a renewal of cooking, writing, and blogging efforts. I’ve missed sharing things in this space with you and I’m glad to be back.

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SAD: seasonal affective dinners

I made a resolution at the beginning of this year to be positive about the cold weather. To not whine about wearing three layers of pants, or curse the pellets of ice that graze my face as I walk to the bus, or lament the lack of blue skies. Yet as I sit here still thawing from the effects of the polar vortex and looking ahead to “feels like -34” degree weather tomorrow, I have to confess that keeping a sunny disposition in the face of this woeful winter has been tough. Sure, there is stark beauty in sheets of ice that grace Lake Michigan and the stillness that takes over the streets after a snowfall. But I’m a Miami girl at heart, and right now, I’m sorely missing my Sunshine State.

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But warmth can be sought in places other than the great outdoors. And this winter, the kitchen has been my tried and true source of comfort, happiness, and heat.  I came back to Chicago from the holidays armed with a stack of new cookbooks and an ambitious number of pages marked for the making. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made it my mission to tackle a few of these recipes each week. The result has been a steady flow of comforting, spicy, and vibrant soups, stews, and salads emerging onto the dinner table. Shared with friends and  lingering conversation, these meals have transported us into blissful oblivion, where the arctic temps outside are almost forgettable.

the perks of cold weather: windowsills become instant brownie coolers!

the perks of cold weather: windowsills become instant brownie coolers!

Last weekend, Kate and I made a complexly flavored red lentil and chard soup from the Ottolenghi book. True to his ways, Ottolenghi had us pulling out all sorts of techniques for this pot of soup. We infused butter with crushed herbs and garlic, slowly caramelized onions, and whirred half the lentils through an immersion blender. Although the prep was seemingly fussy, the result was a fantastic and filling soup that will definitely be a regular fixture in my winter repertoire.

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Last Sunday night brought a divine dinner with friends courtesy of Smitten Kitchen: Mushroom Bourguignon, slowly simmered for an hour and served over creamy polenta.

IMG_2945As if our meal wasn’t indulgent enough, my wonderful friend Jenny had the genius idea to inaugurate her mini cast-iron skillet with a cookie pie…topped with brownie bits…and freshly whipped cream. Hey, we gotta store up for winter right?

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Tonight, I fittingly chose to make Ottolenghi’s Ultimate Winter Couscous: root vegetables and chickpeas swimming in a sea of cinnamon sticks, anise, harissa, and lemon, ladled over buttery, fluffy couscous. I only had a taste of it tonight, but I can’t wait to dig into this comforting dish throughout the week.

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So, maybe staying positive about the the dreary days and ungodly low temperatures was an unattainable resolution. But keeping my stove lit, my cookbooks open, and myself and my friends well fed…now that’s something I can commit to doing.