A New Standby

I’ll admit one thing to you today, and that’s this: I like to plan.  You probably know this by now, if you’ve paid attention. You probably know that we’re pretty on the ball when it comes to vacations, like last year when we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway. We had most of the hotels booked, a few points of interest mapped out, and just enough free time reserved for last-minute stuff, too. That’s the crux of it: planning is great, but in doing so, you need flexibility, too, or else you just screw yourself. You don’t want to screw yourself.

[I just read through the PCH post. What a crazy coincidence that we now live near all of that. That vacation totally rocked, and now everyday life does too (not that it didn’t before…). Also! the area around my poison oak did flare up again a couple of weeks ago, as some strange reaction to sunburn. That’s gone now, but man, was it weird.]

We’re heading on a couple more trips this fall, though they aren’t quite as lavish as last year’s. First, we’re invading my in-laws’ road trip and spending some time with them in Sedona for a long weekend, at which point I’m sure we’ll do some hiking, sight-seeing, and if things go our way, some wine-tasting (um. obviously.). Then, we’ll head back to Chicago for my favorite ex-co-worker’s wedding (and many hopeful reunions!), and start a road trip from the Midwest to the Deep South, ending up in New Orleans for the weekend. If you have any recommendations for St. Louis, Memphis, or New Orleans, send them my way. There will be barbeque, I’m sure. Maybe some honky-tonks, too.

As you might imagine, I’m also a kitchen planner. I’d love to be the person who grocery shops for individual dishes, but I’m just not. I’d spend too much money that way, and I’d have way too little time to actually cook if I stopped at the g-store on the way home every night. That said, I plan 3-4 meals each week, buy the ingredients, and stock up on a few standby items, for the days that an hour in the kitchen seems like too long, either because I exercised for a change, or because I got stuck in traffic, or when Chris decides he wants to work late (he does love working late!) and roll in at 8:30.

This is one of my standbys. Well, now it is, seeing as how I’ve made it exactly twice in a month. This is also perfect for those of you sweating your faces off in other parts of the country that aren’t northern California – you turn on absolutely no heat source to get this dinner on the table. You need only a few staples – something to fill, like lavash bread, or a pita, or even tortillas, and you need something canned, preferably chickpeas, but other beans would work too. And finally, greens; I’d suggest something other than arugula, which is what I had, but you be the judge. The rest of the ingredients can come and go as you have them, a true testament to the standing-by nature of this dish.

It’s a pinch hitter, really. Meant entirely for the days you haven’t planned – the days you want to just wing it. And by wing it, I mean hit the ball outta the park without even trying. Standbys are good like that.

Chickpea Wraps
Adapted from Super, Natural, Every Day; serves 4

time commitment: 20 minutes

printable version

ingredients
2 15 oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 c shallots, small dice
1/2 c celery, small dice
2 T fresh dill, chopped
1 t Za’atar (optional, I still have some)
2 T Dijon mustard
1 c Greek yogurt
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 a lemon’s worth of zest
1 T fresh lemon juice
4 pieces of whole wheat lavash or 4 whole wheat pitas
2 c mixed greens (whatever you have)

instructions
pour half of chickpeas into a large bowl and mash with a potato masher (or fork) to break up a bit. add remaining chickpeas, shallots, celery, and dill.

in a small bowl, whisk together the za’atar (if using), mustard, yogurt, and salt. toss chickpeas with most of the mixture. add lemon zest and juice; taste and add more lemon juice if needed.

spread remaining yogurt onto/into the lavash/pita/whatever you’re using. add 1/4 of the mixed greens to each piece of lavash/pita/whatever, and top each with 1/4 of the chickpea mixture. fold into a wrap and devour. if using pita bread, just devour.

Advertisements

Hypercolor Flashback: Purple Asparagus

purple asparagus pieces
I went to one of Chicago’s local farmer’s markets last weekend, where the asparagus was piled on the tables in a matter resembling fresh-cut lumber. There were stacks of green and purple, yes purple, asparagus. And while I’d heard of it before, I’d never cooked with or eaten it. It has a higher sugar content than its green buddy and is more tender. The cool part is that, when you cook them thoroughly, they turn green on the outside, just like the inside. Maybe you aren’t so wowed by this, but the first thought that came into my mind was this: hypercolor. And I was mystified.

purple asparagus


Do ya’ll remember the hypercolor t-shirts? If not, well – first I am very sad about that, but second – I’ll give you a refresher. The hypercolor fad occurred in the late 80’s/early 90’s amidst a number of clothing faux pas, such as puffy skirts, legwarmers, and fingerless gloves (wait..I must have missed something when those came back into circulation in 2008…). Hypercolor shirts were not fashion faux pas; in fact they’re scientifically fascinating. The amazing magical t-shirts changed colors when exposed to heat, which was accomplished by using thermochromic dye that, at high temperatures, resulted in a chemical reaction that subsequently altered the color of the t-shirt in the area where the heat was applied.

Me? I sported a pink hypercolor shirt that changed to white. My show-stopping outfit was completed with jeans, holes ripped in the knees, a t-shirt clip, Reebok Pumps, and an NKOTB pin that was the size of my head. Well, not that big, but you get the point. Let’s not forget the hair-do: side ponytail with poofed up bangs, probably perfected by Kris. It was something.

making risotto

I used my little purple hypercolor market treasures to make a shrimp risotto. Risotto is one of my favorite dishes to make, as you have a basic ‘no whammies’ technique and an end result that can be altered by adding any other ingredients you wish. Like ice cream, in a way. The worst part, to some, about making risotto is the time spent standing in front of the stovetop, stirring in the liquid. One thinks of all the other chores that could generally be accomplished while cooking – washing the prep dishes, getting the table set, watching a portion of a tv show, reading, etc. These things can’t be done while making risotto.


making risotto



You see, making top-notch risotto is accomplished by cooking your rice slowly by adding small amounts of liquid and stirring, thus releasing the starch molecules from the rice into the liquid. For this to happen, the rice must first get cooked briefly in fat, typically butter or olive oil. Once the rice is al dente, it’s removed from heat at which time you’re free. Free from the reigns of the stovetop, for one, but second, free to add whatever your heart desires – or whatever you’ve got lying around in need of being eaten. On the other hand, if you’re adding something like shrimp, you can cook the shrimp in the risotto, but you’ve got to hang around that stovetop a tad longer. Trust me, for this dish, it’s worth it.


shrimp and asparagus risotto

This particular recipe is one of my favorite risottos so far. You can’t really go wrong by adding shrimp, but the addition of light, bright Greek flavors such as feta and dill is what really does it for me. And to believe I used to hate dill – now I can’t see how one could not adore such a fresh, feathery, aromatic herb. An herb that, while having quite the affinity for salmon, surely doesn’t dislike shrimp in the least. And I’m sure regular ol’ asparagus would work if you can’t locate the purple variety.


So for you? What’s your favorite risotto recipe, or are you a stranger to this Italian delicacy? If so, this recipe will be a perfect first step – so try it out and let me know whatcha think!


Greek Shrimp & Purple Asparagus Risotto
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009; serves 4



ingredients
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
2 t olive oil
2 vidalia onions, small dice
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz purple asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
1 lb peeled & deveined shrimp
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 T fresh dill, chopped finely
2 T lemon juice
salt & pepper

instructions

  1. Bring broth & water to simmer over medium heat in medium saucepan; keep warm-hot but not boiling
  2. Heat oil in large saucepan (or Dutch oven) over med-hi. Add onion and saute 5 min. Stir in rice and garlic, saute 1 min. Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (~30 minutes total)
  3. Stir in asparagus and shrimp; cook 5 minutes or until shrimp is done, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and remaining ingredients