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

Waiting is Overrated

I have had a huge hankering for tomatoes lately. Huge. They’ve slowly been inching their way into our markets – every weekend I dash down the street (okay okay, I stroll; I couldn’t dash if I tried these days) to see if there’s a burgeoning table of wayward-shaped heirlooms in need of a handful of my cash-money. Instead, I see a corner of lonely tomatoes, the same corner that once housed a crate of greens, or maybe some stray box of strawberries.

Damnit, I want that big table of tomatoes already. I have a list of things I want to do with them, and I am growing impatient. Can you tell?

I want to make another panzanella salad, because I haven’t made one since I made this one two years ago! But this time, I want to load it with ‘maters. And sourdough bread, of course.

I want to can plenty of tomato sauce, and make barbeque sauce, and plenty of sriracha ketchup. I want to make buttermilk dressing and slather it all over sliced heirloom tomatoes. And myself. That’s not weird, is it?

I want to make my own harissa. Now let me be clear – the store-bought harissa is totally legit, but I’m sort of a fan of making condiments. Sort of.

I also wouldn’t mind some gazpacho right about now. That sounds like something I could definitely get behind. Or in front of. Or in my mouth. Whatevs.

I wanted to wait to stuff some ‘maters, like my old bosslady did a few months ago, but I really just couldn’t wait any longer. Plus, I’ve been cooking through Heidi Swanson’s new book like it’s goin’ outta style, and I decided that the Whole Foods tomatoes would just have to do because the earmark on the page was near ’bout worn off.

I also couldn’t help myself from throwing a slice of cheese on top, because when has mozzarella cheese and a tomato ever been a bad thing?

Sometimes waiting is so overrated, isn’t it?

Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day, serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (15 minutes active time)

this is a relatively versatile recipe. except! don’t use millet in your tomatoes, as i accidentally did the first time i tried this recipe. you could use a grain of similar texture, more than likely. quinoa maybe? a pesto filling would work well in place of harissa and any other spices/seasonings to put a different twist on it sound fabulous too. if you want a meat-filled tomato, check out this ‘winning recipe‘.

printable version

ingredients
4 large, ripe, red tomatoes
1/3 c plain yogurt
2 T store-bought harissa (tomato-based)
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped into thin strips (chiffonade)
1 shallot, minced
salt and pepper
1/2 c couscous, uncooked
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 4 slices
olive oil, for drizzling

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the top 10% off of each tomato. Working over a large bowl (and using a grapefruit spoon if you have one, but if not a regular spoon works too), scoop the flesh out of each tomato, being careful not to puncture the sides. Let the pulp and juice fall into the bowl. Chop up any large pieces. Arrange shells of tomatoes in a small, glass baking dish.

In the same bowl, combine 1/2 c of the tomato pulp/juice (discard the rest, which shouldn’t be too much) with yogurt, harissa, basil (leave a little to garnish), shallots, and salt/pepper to taste. Add couscous and stir to combine. Stuff filling into each tomato shell, filling as much as possible.

Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Add mozzarella strips to the top of each tomato and bake another 5-7 minutes, until melted and gooey. Remove from oven, drizzle with a little olive oil and pepper, and garnish with remaining basil.

At the Carnival

Do you ever have those moments when you swear you hear circus music in the background? In other words, things around you are just so dang crazy you just stop and do a double-take, which turns into a triple-take, and then a quadruple take, and then a whatever looking 5 times is, and so on and so forth? And then your neck hurts, too?

You may have just heard that music, in fact. I’m going vegan for two days (yes, that’s exactly how long I can go without cheese AND meat AND honey). I’ll tell you why later (it isn’t all that exciting, so don’t get your hopes up). Regardless, I’m convinced that it has clouded my judgement.

I hear circus music a lot in San Francisco. Imagine that. Sure, Chicago had its eccentricities, but this place is a whole ‘nother planet, I’m convinced. It’s not bad, not bad at all; it’s just really different. And I’m not one to stare either, so if you are wearing something, or doing something that makes me stare, you are very talented. Or weird.

The other day, I saw a guy wearing pants only (tight ones, too), swinging on a pole (in a sexual way) on one of the main streets in the city. No lie. I see a whole lot of high-waisted shorts too, which probably isn’t weird and is probably in fashion and I just missed it. I’m ok with that. Yesterday, we saw a street sale (like a yard sale, but on the street) where a book called “All About Hepatitis C” was for sale. I didn’t check the price.

Okay, okay. It isn’t that weird, right? I mean, for realz – this guy hangs around Wicker Park in Chicago all the time. Now that should be in the circus, don’t ya think? At least, I’d pay to see him, but maybe that’s just me.

Then again, things would be a little bit boring around here if things were all the same, if things were all what we expected them to be, if boys didn’t hang from poles every now and then, wouldn’t they?

Take these cookies, for example. Initially, I sort of turned my nose up at the recipe. They’re weird – they’re made with oats and ground-up almonds and peanuts and – get this – popcorn!  They’re held together by bananas, for cryin’ out loud.

These cookies, comprised of all these seemingly random ingredients – they fit together, somehow. Though the recipe seems a little weird at first, and though they most certainly belong at the carnival, they make sense and damn, they even taste good. Not quite good enough to make me consider buying high-waisted shorts, but still – it’s a start.

Carnival Cookies
from Super Natural Every Day; makes 24

time commitment: 45 minutes (25 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
3 large, ripe bananas, well mashed (about 1 1/2 c)
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 c coconut oil, barely warm – so it isn’t solid
1 1/2 c rolled oats (gluten-free available)
1/2 c almond meal (you can make your own by grinding up almonds very finely)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t fine grain sea salt
2/3 c shelled whole peanuts
1 c dark chocolate chips or dark chocolate bar, chopped
1 1/2 c popcorn, popped

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl combine the bananas, vanilla extract, and coconut oil. Set aside. In another bowl whisk together the oats, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate, then the peanuts, and then the popcorn. The dough is looser than a standard cookie dough, but they’ll cook up just fine. Ball about 1 Tablespoon of dough into your hands and place, an inch apart from one another, onto a parchment (or Silpat) lined baking sheet.

Bake for 14-17 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Carefully remove from sheet and cool cookies completely on a wire rack.

Sesame Street

If I remembered being a toddler, I’d probably recall a few instances of frustration when things didn’t go right – like when I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what letter came after Q in the alphabet, and damn that song because it didn’t always help, either. I’d remember not being able to fit the plastic red square into the oddly shaped “toy”.

I’d remember wanting Bugsy, our albino Siamese kitten, to love me so badly that I’d just pick him up and squeeze him to pieces, dragging him across that shaggy yellow carpet like a rag doll, until one day he scratched the side of my face off. Okay, that’s a little of an exaggeration, but nonetheless Bugsy ‘disappeared’ shortly after that incident and I still feel a little guilty about that.

Being a toddler isn’t much different than being an adult, in a lot of ways. We screw a lot of shit up and smile afterwards, hoping our cuteness makes it go away (that worked better then than it does now). We throw tantrums here and there when things don’t go our way, and sometimes we look back on those incidents and laugh, but sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief. We get excited about the little things, and sometimes the big picture escapes us.

Occasionally, great ideas aren’t always as well-executed in practice as they were in theory. But often, trying again (and sometimes again and again and again) leads to success.

But being a toddler was so much easier than being an adult, wasn’t it? If only we all had someone bigger than us, wiser than us, more adult than us, to make all those big choices in the big people world. Like what retirement fund to choose, or whether to bring an umbrella to work today, or what to tell the crying patient in your office, or how to get the damn trash people to just take our freaking box that’s been sitting outside all weekend.

Or how to cook soba noodles. Yeah, seriously. How to boil water, open a package, dump the dried buckwheat sticks into said boiling water, wait 5 minutes, and drain the now-soft noodles, and rinse them in cool water afterwards. You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard, wouldja?

But a couple of weeks ago, it was. I missed a c-rucial step.  You see, the buckwheat noodles were divided into three groups, each tied together by a thin strip of paper the same color as the noodles (translation – I didn’t see them). The water boiled, the package was opened, and the sticks were dumped into the water, but the paper ties caused a minor problem: the noodles didn’t separate, causing three large chunks of glop, and realizing this error right after dumping the noodles into the water was just 1 second too late, and past the point of no return. Some penne in the pantry saved the day, but all the while I knew this dish needed to be right, and it wasn’t.

So I put on my big girl pants, I procured another package of noodles and tofu along with more sesame seeds, I swallowed my pride, and I tried again. And man, am I glad I did. Admitting defeat and trying again is so grown up, don’t ya think?

Black Sesame Otsu
adapted, barely, from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson; serves 4

okay, I have a new cookbook addiction, which doesn’t happen often. and to you carnivores out there, I am sorry to report that I am again tossing another tofu recipe onto this site. I promise a meat-heavy dish is in your future. but for now, i am really happy about soba noodles, black sesame seeds, and tofu. I probably could have eaten the paste all by itself, actually.

printable version

time commitment: 30 minutes

ingredients
1 t pine nuts
1 t sunflower seeds
1/2 c black sesame seeds
1 1/2 T natural cane sugar
1 1/2 T soy sauce
1 1/2 t mirin
1 t toasted sesame oil
2 T brown rice vinegar
1/8 t cayenne pepper
Fine-grain sea salt
1 package organic soba noodles
1 package extra-firm tofu
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

instructions
Cut the tofu into thin, bite-sized pieces. Put on a towel-lined plate and let sit out to release some of the moisture.

Toast the pine nuts and sunflower seeds in a large skillet over medium heat until golden, shaking the pan regularly. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and toast for a minute or so. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell a hint of toasted sesame. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush the mixture; the texture should be like black sand. Stir in the sugar, shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba, and cook according to the package instructions until tender. Drain, reserving some of the noodle cooking water, and rinse under cold running water.

While the noodles are cooking, season the tofu with a pinch of salt, toss with a small amount of oil, and cook in a large skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, tossing every couple minutes, until the pieces are browned on all sides.

Reserve a heaping tablespoon of the sesame paste, then thin the rest with 1/3 cup of the hot noodle water. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, half of the green onions, and the black sesame paste. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve topped with a tiny dollop of the reserved sesame paste and the remaining green onions.