fit for a golden weekend

In just a few short weeks of third year, a whole lot of medical jargon has been added to my repertoire. One of my favorite phrases to date is “golden weekend.” Definition: getting both Saturday and Sunday off. As med students, we’re generally guaranteed one weekend day free, but every now and then, we’re gifted a precious two full days of leisure.

This weekend was a golden one for me, and I lived it out to its fullest, catching up with friends, taking walks in the surprisingly cool weather, and of course, cooking, eating, and enjoying great food.

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The farmers market was once again teeming with the sweet stone fruits of summer. I had to use every bit of restraint and a self-imposed $10 limit to not buy every last cherry and berry and on display. After great internal debate and a healthy amount of sampling, I came away with a carton of tender and succulent apricots, delicate, fragrant, and at their peak of ripeness. I hesitated to adulterate these precious orange gems in any way other than eating them solo. But after I had done that with a couple immediately upon arriving home, a salad sprung to mind that I was confident would showcase their natural beauty and flavor.

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Juicy slices of apricot were combined with spicy arugula, tangy goat cheese, rich pistachios, and sweet fennel and tossed in a simple balsamic vinaigrette. Perhaps it was that I was enjoying it smack dab in the middle of a golden weekend, or that it was made with fancier ingredients that I don’t buy on a regular basis, or that it was enjoyed alongside two of Kate’s specialties, bruschetta and baba ganoush, but there was something about eating this salad that was utterly luxurious and special.

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By the next time I’m free to make it back to the market, apricots may have fallen out of season, and the prospects of recreating this very salad may be slim. However, if there’s something I’ve realized so far during third year, it’s not to lament limited free time, but rather to savor these precious spent moments spent enjoying friends, food, and the city around us.

Apricot & Arugula Salad

Serves 2 salad-loving folk, and 4 normal people

3-4 apricots, sliced

3-4 large handfuls of arugula

1 bulb fennel, sliced very thinly (best if you can use a mandoline)

2 oz goat cheese, crumbled

2 tbsp pistachios

Balsamic Vinaigrette:

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp dijon mustard

3 tbsp olive oil

crack of black pepper

pinch of salt

Assemble salad ingredients in a large bowl. Use a fork or whisk to stir all the dressing ingredients vigorously until well combined. Toss salad in dressing just before serving. Enjoy!

micro[wave]managing

Right now, I’m living in a hotel. Not too shabby…

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I’m doing my outpatient medicine rotation in a northern suburb, and the hospital up here has very graciously provided us with housing so that we don’t have to make a 1.5+ hour commute each way. I feel like I’m stuck halfway between vacation and real life: enjoying the “rainkissed leaves” scented lotion, free cookies and coffee in the lobby, and cable TV, but still facing the realities of studying, working, and waking up early.

While there are lots of great restaurants within a short distance from the hotel, my budgetary and time constraints don’t exactly allow me to be eating out every night. Lucky for me, my room is equipped with this lovely little kitchenette (aka a mini fridge and microwave). I’ve secretly been looking forward to challenging myself to “cooking” in this little space since I found out I’d be coming up here back in June. During my first two years of college, I basically earned a minor in Dorm Room Culinary Arts, so reverting back to the good old days of making do with a few inches of counter space, a tiny cutting board, a mini knife, and a small yet mighty microwave was alluringly nostalgic.

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These past two weeks, I’ve been capitalizing on the extreme microwave-ability my all-time favorite food, the sweet potato. A quick rinse in the bathroom sink, a couple of knife pricks in the skin, and a click of the POTATO button and voila!—an instant, vitamin-rich, and filling canvas for whatever your heart desires. For me, that’s been some microwave steamed kale (bought pre-washed and cut, sprinkled with a splash of water, and microwaved for 1 minute), bean salsa (both purchased and homemade), avocado chunks, and a dollop of Greek yogurt or a sprinkle of feta cheese. Delicious, nutritious, satisfying, and all wrought from this humble little space.

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I only have a few more days left here, but I’m hoping that future rotations will land me back soon for a welcome change of pace and a healthy bit of a culinary challenge.

So, no real recipe here, just my vote of confidence that you too will be able to make the most of any downsized kitchen space you encounter. And my biggest tip if you find yourself in a similar situation: bring your favorite plate/bowl/silverware from home and a little dish soap and sponge. It makes all the difference in making for homier mealtimes.

market day

Greetings from my first Saturday off since third year began! It’s a beautiful, hot, and sunshiney summer day here—one that lent itself perfectly to spending the morning at the 61st Street Farmers Market.

This wonderful farmers market is a short walk from home and boasts a bounty of ripe fruits and vegetables from Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as delectable homemade pastries, breads, jams, and more. I hadn’t been able to go the market since the beginning of June, and it was just incredible to see how the slim pickings of early summer have given way to a plethora of berries, zucchini, peaches, apricots, and cherries.

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Today, I came to the market as more than an eager shopper. I had the great opportunity to be the chef behind the market’s weekly cooking demo. In May, while working on my project about healthy cooking in the community, I learned about the chef demos at the farmers market and thought it would be a neat way to build further connections with community members through cooking. I was unsure whether they’d allow an amateur chef like myself to lead a demo, but I was always taught that it never hurts to ask, and lo and behold, they gave me a slot.

IMG_2014I thought long and hard about what the ideal recipe for the demo would be. I anticipated that by mid-July the weather would be sweltering, people (including myself) would want as little to do with a hot stove or oven as possible, and most importantly, that peaches would just be beginning to ripen. With that in mind, I settled on making Peach and Black Bean Salsa, a take on my family’s beloved mango salsa recipe that embraces the sweet peaches that grace the Midwest in the summer.

photo (2)I had an absolute blast cooking for an audience of people, young and old, expert cooks and cooking novices, who each brought great conversation, energy, and most importantly, willing palates to the demo tent. After spending my last few weekends in the hospital, it was a refreshing change of pace to be out in the community, cooking for people and with people, and celebrating health and wellness in a delicious way.

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Peach and Black Bean Salsa

4 peaches, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

½ medium red onion, finely diced

2 scallions, finely sliced (green parts only)

1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced

1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

½ cup cilantro, chopped

Juice of 4 limes

2 tbsp olive oil

¼ tsp ground cumin

Salt to taste (about 1-2 tsp)

Mix all ingredients together. Allow salsa to sit covered in the fridge for at least an hour before serving to allow flavors to meld.

It’s great served alongside grilled chicken or fish, or scooped up with vegetable sticks or chips.

out to lunch

A packed lunch, when done well, is a daymaker. Never has this been more apparent to me than the last few weeks working in the hospital. Mornings start early and run at a harried pace, and most days I am in need of a serious energy boost by lunchtime (whenever in the afternoon lunchtime happens to fall).

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I’ve always been a little wary of cafeteria fare and was ever a flag-bearer for the camp of “home lunch” kids in school- my mom or dad sent me to school with a PB&J each day and saved me from a fate worse than mass-produced turkey tetrazzini. Force of habit, my student budget, and the comfort I take in my Sunday evening ritual of preparing food for the week and packing it up in tupperware have made me a home lunch lifer. While I default to PB&J every once in a while, these days I favor substantial salads that are filling interesting enough to keep me from opting for Au Bon Pain by Wednesday. 

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Joanna is the queen of such lunch salads and I used her deconstructed dolmades recipe from the archives for last week’s lunch fare. I riffed on that premise today and used this fattoush recipe by which I am totally obsessed as further inspiration. Sumac is everything I have ever wanted in a spice- lemony, fragrant, purple, and slightly bitter- and while it can be tricky to track down, it’s totally worth the hunt. 

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1 medium head cauliflower

3T olive oil

Juice and zest of one large lemon

1 large clove garlic, minced or crushed

1 T sumac

¼ t salt

 

1 c quinoa or other grain, uncooked

½ of a large onion, thinly sliced

1 T oil

 

½ c sundried tomatoes

Handful walnuts

2 large handfuls spinach (or more)

Dressing

2 T lemon juice

½ t sumac

1 T fresh chopped herbs (I used sage and mint)

1 T olive oil

Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and combine with 3T oil, zest and juice of one lemon, garlic, 1T sumac, and 1/4t salt in a large bowl. Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange the cauliflower on it in a single layer. Roast 20-30 minutes, stirring a few times, until the cauliflower begins to brown.

Meanwhile, place the quinoa in a medium saucepan, cover w 2 cups water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer 12-15 min, until water is absorbed. 

In a medium skillet, caramelize the onions. Heat 1 T oil then add onions. Cook slowly over medium-low heat until golden, at least 20 minutes. 

Make the dressing: place all ingredients in a small jar, put the lid on, and shake to combine. Taste to adjust the flavors. It should be tangy. 

Place spinach, tomatoes, and nuts in a large bowl and add the cauliflower, onions, and quinoa when they’re done cooking.  Toss with dressing. Serve at room temperature or cold.

cooler than being cool

I didn’t really celebrate this holiday just past. I walked out of the hospital after a long day just in time to catch the tail end of the pyrotechnic displays scattered over South Side skies, lit some sparklers in my back alley with a pack of neighbor kids visibly dizzy on the fumes summer and bug spray and fire, then dragged my tired self straight into bed.

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I can’t say I was too sad about letting the holiday pass me by with barely a nod of acknowledgment. Of course the meaning of the day isn’t lost on me, but the I think real celebrating of the 4th is best left to the kids because they’re the ones who can see the magic of it all the best. The obvious magic that the kids in the alley saw in their sparklers inspired me to put into practice one of my favorite acts of kitchen magic- making ice cream.

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Homemade ice cream has long been one of my favorite summer treats and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t find the process magical. You mix some liquids, you make them cold, you churn it all up, and you end up with unparalleled goodness. Of all the kitchen miracles – yeasted bread, soufflé, custard, roux, pickles, it’s a very long list – homemade ice cream is superlative.

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I’m the proud mama of a growing brood of small kitchen appliances and I love them all in their own unique ways and I could never choose a favorite. My food processor, though older than I am, can turn slimy chickpeas into etherial hummus. My hand mixer can go from zero to whipped cream in 60 seconds. My Vitamix… (juuuuust kidding but a girl can dream right?) But I must say of the whole lot, my little ice cream freezer holds a place of honor. So far this summer I’ve churned up batches of salted caramel, chocolate custard, mango sorbet, and now this holiday-edition black raspberry + chocolate chunk number.

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Folks who like black raspberries as much as we folks in my family like them have definite opinions about raspberry seeds (hell, we have definite opinions about most everything but that’s beside the point). I usually don’t mind the seeds- I’m a jam over jelly girl- but for this batch of ice cream I opted to strain them out for the sake of smoothness. The chocolate is easily omitted or easily doubled to suit your liking. I get the sense that this custard would make a magical base for any fruit that comes your way this summer.

Black Raspberry Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream (adapted from the Pioneer Woman)

3-4 c black raspberries

3 T sugar

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 1/2 c heavy cream

1 1/2 c half-and-half

1 c sugar

5 large egg yolks

1 t vanilla extract

1/2-1c semisweet chocolate chips or chunks

Combine the berries, 3T sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the mixture becomes a loose sauce. Pour through a fine mesh straining to remove the seeds. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the 1c sugar and half-and-half to a simmer. In a heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks until slightly thickened. Temper the yolks by slowly whisking in about 2/3 of the warm half-and-half mixture. Pour the tempered yolks back into the pan with the remaining half-and-half and cook over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon. Pour the cream into a heatproof bowl and gently mix in the egg mixture. Stir in the raspberry mixture and add the vanilla.

Cool in the refrigerator for a few hours, up to overnight, until thoroughly chilled. Or if you’re in a hurry, place the bowl in an ice bath to cool it more quickly. Freeze according to direction on your machine. When the ice cream is almost done, in the last minute or so of freezing, melt the chocolate in the microwave. Drizzle into the ice cream, using a spoon to make sure it doesn’t all puddle at the top.