Thursday, May 5, 2016

trust the process



 Around these parts, Potato Tacos are not just a once in while meal agenda, but more so a midweek way of life. What was once a thrown together dinner idea inspired by a long ago vacation is now just straight up Potato Taco Night. Also known as Wednesday. This meal is my favorite go-to for a lot of reasons. It’s pretty healthy (vegan if you omit the sour cream/ yogurt), it’s comprised of pantry staples, it feels decadent and satisfying and it tastes oh so good with that very necessary Hump Day Beer. And most of all it is heavily hands off, you set the potatoes in the oven and the black beans to simmer and you then don’t have to do anything until just before you sit down. When you work all day and have a tiny lunatic climbing the walls that hour of freedom from 5-6 is very necessary. Even if you don’t.

My affinity for Mexican-ish main dishes is no secret by now. Whether I’m waxing philosophical about burritos, slow cooking a pork butt to feed a party-sized crowd or simply cooking my family the easiest of easy weeknight dinners, I’m heavily into tacos, burritos and all things folded into tortillas and decorated with avocado and hot sauce. Strangely enough though, I have never been super into breakfast burritos, or Mexican-style breakfasts in general. I’m not quite sure what the hesitation was, but I think it was mostly fueled by the fact that there are many bad breakfast burritos out there- super soggy with gross, unsuitable vegetables and a bunch of salsa slogging it all down; and also, the aversion may stem from the years I spent slinging breakfast, where one of our signature menu items was a Mexican Chicken Omelette. A monstrosity of eggs, grilled chicken, Jack cheese and salsa that had both pungent aromas and a runny appearance- serving this dish with a Category 7 Hangover (as I was accustomed to in those days) was not that easy, guys.

But last October, Paul and I traveled up to the Catskills for a dear friend (and former roommate and generally like-minded aka food obsessed lady friend)’s wedding. Now Stevie digs food in the way that I do. In an all consuming and passionate way- so much so that she recently bravely took the leap to leave a comfortable career and go to culinary school. We both agree that when any event pops up on the calendar the first and most important question is: What am I gonna make? She’s the real deal this one. So when her fiance and she put together a list of local eateries, we knew that they would be legit. We ate both days at the Phoenicia Diner-- and the breakfasts were delightful. On the second day, moderately hungover and ready for a rib sticking breakfast, I opted for the breakfast burrito. Even though I wasn’t usually drawn to them, something about this place told me I wouldn’t regret the decision. What was served up did not inspire regret, but rather a new obsession: a perfectly crisped grilled tortilla housed a combination of cheesy eggs, crispy chorizo and salty black beans. On the side a bracing and spicy jalapeno salsa for dipping. Do I even have to say that I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I might have a problem with burrito fantasies. These simple but delicious breakfast tacos are the closest I can get to a simple Sunday morning reproduction. Yes, you have to have the foresight to roast potatoes in the morning, but man, they’re worth it. By now you should trust that there are a couple things I don’t fuck around with: Sunday morning breakfast and any kind of Mexican food. You can trust the process.

BREAKFAST TACOS 
serves 2

For the crispy potatoes: 

3-4 russet potatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

3-4 slices of chorizo, or 1-2 links, depending on what format you’re dealing with
1 teaspoon butter
4-5 eggs
Sliced avocado
4 tortillas

Optional toppings: shredded Jack or Cheddar, salsa, sour cream or Greek yogurt
Non-optional toppings: hot sauce, you gotsta

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Peel and dice potatoes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and toss potatoes with a hearty drizzle of oil. Season with salt and pepper and set in the oven to roast 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until very crispy. Open the oven once to rotate the pan and toss the potatoes. These potatoes are the foundation for my Potato Tacos, they taste as decadent as eating a bunch of French fries, while being much healthier. The key is high heat, plenty of oil and only opening the oven a minimum amount of times. I also give them a light spritz with coconut oil, if you have it, do so as well. They are a time commitment for breakfast but less steps (and less dirty dishes) than good homefries.

Let the potatoes cook a good while, when you have about 20 minutes left, crisp the chorizo in a skillet over medium heat. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel to drain off a bit of the grease. Reduce heat to medium-low and wipe the skillet out with a paper towel. Add a teaspoon of butter and let it melt, if the pan appears too hot, take it off heat and let it cool down a little, you don’t want to scorch scrambled eggs. In a small bowl whisk eggs with a fork, add to the skillet and cook, low and slow, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Pull the eggs off heat when they are almost done, but still a little wet. Top with a bit of cheese to melt, if using. Warm tortillas over an open flame or in the oven. To assemble: scoop eggs into charred tortillas, top with crispy potatoes and chorizo, garnish with avocado, hot sauce and whatever else your heart desires. Scarf one and then repeat.



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Thursday, March 3, 2016

the awakening



Massaman Curry was a gateway food for me. In college, when I first started to eat a few things that weren’t either a chicken finger or a pizza (or a delectable combination of both), I had Thai food for the first time. I was totally doubtful. What if I hated it? What I didn’t realize at the time was that a well made curry and rice is the exact same kind of comfort food as my beloved Chicken Roll, just with a different flavor profile and delivery system (i.e. in a bowl, not rolled inside a crust of pizza dough). So one day I was downtown with my roommates we stepped into a Thai place on Spring Street, called something generically Thai, like Spice n Rice. Or just Rice, or maybe Panang. I can still picture their logo but cannot recall the name. Eager to be open minded, and already outnumbered in the vote by my roommates, I agreed to have some Thai. I ordered the same thing as Val, it seemed safe. Massaman Curry. I had low expectations. It surpassed and multiplied all of them. I left the restaurant thinking I was extremely mature, exotic and a total hot shit. “I love Thai food” I would then mention to anyone who would listen, in an attempt to prove my worldliness. I was obviously VERY mature. I lived in New York City and enjoyed Exotic Cuisines. I know this sounds kind of sad and sheltered, but you know this was the year 2000, food wasn't completely fetishized yet; and plus, I came from a town where the most exotic culinary experience growing up was the glossy Chinese food at Cathay Hanover.



Now, I am sure if I returned to the same Thai restaurant today, it may be completely sub par. But in my memory, it was a total culinary awakening and I’ve loved Thai curries, especially Massaman, ever since. I often judge the strength of any Thai takeout by two dishes: the Massaman Curry and the Drunken Noodles This particular recipe was originally in Food and Wine, I subbed out the chicken and potatoes traditionally found in MC for a vegan-friendly, protein dense meal that I was making for a friend who had just had a baby and needed some serious chow. I stirred in a bit of cashew and peanut butters to thicken what I saw as a very thin sauce and spiced it up with a little Sriracha. The end result was hearty, comforting and completely delicious, without a breaded chicken finger or pizza crust in sight. I am basically the MOST mature person ever now.



MASSAMAN CURRY with SQUASH, SWEET POTATOES and CHICKPEAS

1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon dried, or ½ teaspoon fresh grated turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken broth
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon cashew butter
½ tablespoon peanut butter (or simply 1 ½ tbsp. of just PB if you don’t have cashew butter) 
Sriracha
½ cup chopped cashews or peanuts
Juice of half a lime (optional)
Chopped cilantro (for garnish), optional

In a large braising pan or Dutch oven, heat ghee or oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until fragrant, about 3-5 minutes, add garlic and saute an additional minute more. Add to the pan, the squash, sweet potato and chickpeas. Toss together to combine; then add in the ginger, five spice, cumin, cayenne, turmeric and salt. Stir together to coat the vegetables and beans with all the spices. Pour in the chicken stock and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Let cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes at least.



At this point, the sauce will still be a bit loose. Stir in the peanut or cashew butter, whichever you have/prefer (I used both), and a squeeze of Sriracha, if desired. Fold in the cherry tomatoes and let the sauce reduce and thicken over medium heat for an additional 8 minutes or so, until the tomatoes have burst. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. I found this curry needed a little more salt, a little more heat and a bit of brightness, so I squeezed in the juice of half a lime to finish the sauce. Serve with brown or white rice and garnish with the chopped nuts and cilantro, if using.



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Monday, January 18, 2016

takeaways



During the month of October, I did Whole30. For those of you unfamiliar, you can get the skinny on their website. I did pretty well (I’d say a solid B+) in adhering to the guidelines, though there were some things I definitely messed up on. Because basically insteading of reading the actual rules, I just asked my sister, who told me even though it was probably not okay to eat three Lara bars in one day on Whole30 that I could. So I did. I also used copious amounts of olive oil, which you’re supposed to limit and I also took a day off for a wedding and then one afternoon off for a beer festival (it was a work event, guys). So basically I did like Whole27-plus-potatoes-and-shit-I realized-halfway-through-that-the-almond-milk-I-drink-actually-has-carrageenans-in-it. But STILL. I didn’t drink alcohol for almost a whole month and I didn’t eat black beans or lentils. And I had a family health crisis, a few isolated work crises AND I got my period back and I STILL didn’t cheat. SO I would like some kind of a plaque and/or trophy for my wall. For being so brave and strong.

When you are done with Whole30 you’re supposed to undergo a process of “reintroduction” so that you can really determine foods that make you tired, inflamed, bloated, mess-with-your-digestion, etc. The idea is every three days you add back in one of the forbidden foods and you illustrate to yourself what’s not working for you. For me, my first day done with Whole30 was Halloween and I went to a party. So my reintroduction process consisted of me drinking beer and a bunch of wine, eating pizza and pounding, like, four Reese’s cups. My reintroduction also consisted of me not sleeping that night as my body tried to fight off the case of Instant Diabetes I had attempted to give it.

I had some good takeaways from my Whole30 experience and some things that I know just aren’t sustainable for me (like no pizza- I don’t even care if it makes me feel sluggish, they will pry the slice from my cold dead hands)...but on the other hand I realized I enjoy black coffee now and I enjoy and even look forward to meals that are heavier on veggies than anything else. This yummy breakfast dish was my go-to Sunday morning meal during my Whole27ish. It’s so good Paul didn’t even notice we had stopped eating baked beans.

SMOKY SWEET POTATO HASH with EGGS

1-2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into a very small dice*
1 shallot; or ½ an onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin
¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
4 eggs
salt and pepper

Optional: sliced avocado for serving

*In order for this hash to be successful (i.e. potatoes that are cooked through but not falling apart) you must take the time to cut them into an evenly sized dice. I’d wager to say my dice on these is usually about ½ “ square, but god knows I’ve never taken a measuring tape to ‘em. In a very large skillet or cast iron pan, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add onion or shallot, season with salt and pepper, and saute 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add sweet potato and toss around to evenly coat with oil, adding a drizzle more if necessary. Season everything with a pinch of salt and pepper and cover, stirring often, letting the potatoes and onion steam a bit for about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and spices and stir together well. Return lid and let the potatoes continue to “steam” for lack of a better word, stirring often so they don’t stick, for another 5 minutes more. Test a potato cube for doneness...you want them to be just about done, but not mushy. They will continue to cook for another solid few minutes, so even if there’s a tiny bit of bite to them still, it’s okay.

Reduce heat to low for a moment and use a spatula or wooden spoon to make four little indents in the potato mixture. Drizzle a touch of olive oil into each one and then carefully crack an egg into each. Raise the heat just a bit, to just shy of medium and let everything cook until the eggs are done to your liking. I find using the cover for a few minutes, but then allowing them to cook uncovered yields fully cooked whites and still-runny yolks. To tell that the whites are done, I usually just carefully pick up one side of my pan and tilt it up, you want a little movement left in the yolks but no runniness whatsoever from the whites. Serve with sliced avocado and plenty of hot sauce.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

so this is christmas

This blog post has been on my to-do list for no less than six weeks, maybe longer. It’s not that I haven’t been busy (it is, after all, December 22nd); it’s that I haven’t much know where to start or what to say. I was talking the other night with a best friend of mine and she said she has found it hard to blog ever since she had her son (who is now almost two). She was just saying that it’s not a time thing; it’s just more of a question of not being sure what her voice is right now. She doesn’t want her design blog to turn into a mom blog, but at the same time, it’s kind of hard to deny the dominant role in your life.

This is the cutest photograph known by mankind in this century or any other:

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As for me, I totally feel what she's saying, but the absence here has not been a question of lost voice (mine is still snark and self deprecation, with a generous serving of food porn), or even a question of not having time (though things have been busy) it’s just been a weird fall, a strange end to an amazing year, and I’m not sure how to approach it without being a total downer. On October 21st my uncle became severely sick with an illness that is still very much a mystery. A standard seeming cold, turned stomach virus, suddenly got very serious, very fast and within a span of five hours or so he was paralyzed and intubated and looked surely as though he would not make it through the night, let alone the week. He spent over four weeks in the neurological ICU at Brigham & Women’s and has now been transferred to acute long term care at a different hospital. My uncle Loran is someone who is low key, and would rather help you paint your whole house than take a meal which you have offered- so I’m sure all this attention is not his bag. His illness has been a rollercoaster of emotion and has gone from severe, to worse, to better, back to complicated and has now, two months later, shifted into a place where I think there is hope. He is moving some parts of his body, sitting up, and talking. These are big giant leaps forward and we can all only hope that things keep moving forward in a positive way from here on out.

This is my uncle and Russel on 4th of July. I am so happy I got this photo:

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This illness has been taxing emotionally for everybody. We are a close knit clan and to see a vibrant, active, generous member of your family confined to a bed, unsure of what the future holds, is like the equivalent of grieving for a person in slow motion. It has been very draining on my mom and aunts, because all they want is for their only brother to heal and be better, and the slow pace of recovery has been a lesson in patience.

Whenever life gets you down, I suggest you consider how stoked a baby gets about Christmas lights. Know that we all have this much joy inside of us, too:

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So it has been hard, as we move through the holidays, not to be informed by this sadness; but I do find it’s best to focus on the hope. And there is hope and progress and he is still here. Which is the closest thing to a miracle I have ever seen. This year as a whole, has been filled with miraculous events and I must say, to see my uncle come back from the brink of death, has been a part of the beauty of it all (although we TOTALLY could have done without the terrifying mystery illness). This was the year I became a mother and watched a tiny, squishy alien being develop into a jubilant, charismatic little ball of personality who GETS JOKES and can “sing” and “dance”. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. Also, I have been cooking constantly (hello, I have to feed my family and I love to eat my feelings, so OBVIOUSLY) so I have plenty to share here. For now though, I wish you and your family a holiday filled with warmth and cheer. Lots and love and I’ll see you next year.

xoxo, Jess

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

messy and full

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At some point it became October and I’m not really sure how that happened. Oh wait, no I know how. We spent September in a dreamy, chaotic, wonderful haze of family time. Our house was packed to the hilt with people. My sister, her husband and their two boys came to stay for a visit that spanned almost three weeks. The house was loud, the surfaces were sticky, the laundry was endless and the time together was So. Much. Fun.

I think it’s a natural reaction from a lot of people that having house guests is a hassle but I don’t know...there’s something fundamentally right about it to me. Why do we have this house if not to open it up to the people we love? When I would mention that a family of four was bunking with us for a few weeks people would be like “yikes!” or “are you guys over it?” and I’ve got to say, maybe I just like them so much I don’t notice (totally possible) but these visits are a joy. And I’m not even speaking just for me but for Paul too! He may have missed them more than I did when they left. When half of your family lives several thousand miles away and the only time you get to see them in the flesh is but once or twice a year you tend to be pretty stoked about it. And it’s just really fun to have a bunch more people to goof around with. Every meal feels like an event, even breakfast. One evening while I was cooking my sister and I had a long conversation about true hospitality and we agreed: we’d rather have a messy house full of people than a clean one that’s empty.

I guess this partially explains why my idea of a good time is having, like, 30 people over for dinner; which is exactly what we did to celebrate my sister’s 40th birthday while they were in town. I could not wait to make a dank dinner for a crowd to show her just how much I love her and if I do say so myself, I think I did just that. The key to staying sane while hosting, while also having houseguests? Well, first, make the boys clean the house. The adult boys, not the little ones. And then when it comes to the menu: plan ahead, prep ahead and make a killer main dish that is mostly hands off. In this scenario a braise is a total no-brainer. People love meat- buy an inexpensive cut that responds well to cooking slow and low, set it up two nights or one night before and then day-of, just let it simmer while you pour everyone wine. We were so prepped for this party that two hours before anyone got there we laid down on the couch and chilled for like a half hour! This particular dish is one of my favorites whether I’m hosting three or 30. Though I am partial to the larger crowd, because obviously, we’re people people. We like havin’ em around.

TWO DAY “SHORT RIBS” FOR A CROWD 

3-4 lbs. good quality chuck cut into 1-2” pieces
Olive oil
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 Spanish onion, peeled and diced
1 shallot, peeled and minced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
½ tube (about 3-4 tbs.) tomato paste
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 head garlic, cut in half
1 32 oz. container chicken or beef stock
1 bottle dry red wine*
Salt and pepper
Flour (optional)**

*I used a bottle of California Zinfandel, because that’s what I had, but in recipes like these I almost always use a Chilean Cabernet (Viu Manet or Cono Sur are both decent, inexpensive brands) or an inexpensive dry French red (La Vielle Ferme Rouge).

**If you want to use flour in this recipe, you use it in the beginning, dredging the meat in a light coating before browning. Because my guest of honor does not do gluten, I kicked around the idea of using tapioca flour, which I have heard works well as a substitute. No other random flour will fit—coconut flour for example sucks up a lot of liquid and could screw things up royally. What I ended up doing was omitting flour and browning the meat straight up—I don’t think we missed out on anything and since it’s the least complicated option, this is what I will do in the future as well.

Heat a few tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Generously salt and pepper your “short ribs” on all sides and add to pot. Brown in batches, getting a nice sear on at least two sides and pull meat out and set aside. Remove pan from heat and let cool for a few minutes before proceeding, or you will scorch your vegetables. Return pot to heat and lower flame to medium. Add a few drizzles of oil to pan and sauté carrot, onion, shallot and celery. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add tomato paste and stir to coat, then increase heat to high and add wine, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen up any flavorful bits left from searing the meat.

Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan and pour in stock to cover, nestle in halved garlic, thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil then reduce to low and let simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from heat, cover and set in fridge overnight. (If you want to do this all in one day simply eliminate the refrigeration step and continue to braise on low until meat is falling apart, about an additional 1 ½ hours.)

Remove pot from fridge and let the temperature come up a bit. Scoop any hardened fat off the surface and toss. One optional step I added here was to pull the meat out and remove any huge hunks of garlic and the stems from the thyme and rosemary; then I poured the liquid, along with the softened veggies into my vitamix in batches and pureed until silky. This is completely optional and not necessary but did result in a really luxurious sauce. If you have a high power blender and you don’t mind a few super messy extra steps try it. If not, don’t sweat it; simply pull out the herb stems and halves of garlic before continuing to reheat.

Set the pot back on the stove, bring up to a boil, and then reduce to low. Let simmer about 2 hours (perhaps less), stirring often. A great test of whether or not your meat is done is to pull a piece up and hold it by its corner- if it starts to fall apart with just the help of gravity- it’s ready. Or you can try shredding apart a piece with a fork. It should be completely fork tender. Serve with a super simple green salad, mashed potatoes or polenta and plenty of crusty bread for dat sauce.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

long days and all

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I have been grasped by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia the past few weeks. Admittedly this happens every August as fall creeps closer but in this case the loss of an old friend last week has me feeling particularly gripped with a want to slow time down/ move it backward. As I sifted through milk crates of old photos and reconnected with people I hadn’t seen in years I couldn’t help but be seized by how fast it all goes by and how precious life is. This particular friend and I had not seen each other in years, or even been close in over a decade but the suddenness of his passing, the fact that he left a beautiful family behind and the fact that we were so close at such a formative time in our lives had me really steeped in the grief of it. We were all just babies, really, riding around with newly minted drivers licenses, truly questionable fashion choices (so much hemp, so many cargo shorts), and good, good company. We laughed constantly and life felt like an adventure, even though it was some pretty basic suburban teenage mischief. Everything was new then.

I am also struck by the speedy passage of this year and the deep-feeling-potency of motherhood. I don’t know how to put it any other way. I thought I was a sensitive soul before becoming a mom but having a child, like falling in love, getting married, or any other activity that is both worthwhile and terrifying at the same time truly does bring out All the Feels. Russel is now six months old. How on earth this happened so quickly I don’t know. I often times am still struck by the thought “holy shit I have a baby!” when I peek at him in the rearview mirror or tiptoe into his room to watch him sleep. You can call it cliché all you want but the parenting adage that the “days are long but the years are short” is the TRUTH. He has been alive for half a year and it feels like ten seconds. My boy has round thighs reminiscent of legs of prosciutto, three (three!) tiny white teeth and what the pediatrician calls a “zest for life.” I think we will keep him, long days and all.

And while the days are long for just a few weeks more I’d like to hang onto this summer for a while more. Food is an easy way to do that. Fresh, bright and super simple: this chicken “salad” for lack of a better term has without a doubt been the signature food of the Benson Family Summer of 2015. My friend Tim made something similar a month or so back and told me about it. I went home and made it the very next day, tweaking it just slightly and adding corn (because it’s August, der). I then went on to make it four times over the next three weeks. It’s addicting, healthy and delicious. I have bulked it up with crunchy romaine and baby spinach leaves to be a proper salad, spooned it into warm pita pockets and shoveled it into my mouth with the serving spoon straight out of the bowl. It’s that kind of good.

TOMATO, CORN and HERB SUMMER CHICKEN SALAD

Marinated grilled chicken breasts (see recipe below)
1 ear corn, charred over a grill or open flame
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes (I used red and yellow)
3 scallions, chopped
2-3 tbsp. fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
2-3 tbsp. fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
¾ cup cashews, toasted and coarsely chopped
3-4 tbsp. olive oil
Juice from one lime
2-3 tsp. rice vinegar
Drizzle honey
1-2 tbsp. whole grain mustard

Char corn over an open flame or grill until slightly blackened in spots. Let cool and chop kernels from the cob. Halve or quarter cherry tomatoes and combine with corn in a large bowl. Add cubed grilled chicken scallions, parsley, cilantro and cashews. Drizzle in oil, lime juice, rice vinegar, honey and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together and taste, adjusting seasonings if necessary. Serve with lettuce cups, over chopped romaine with an extra drizzle of oil for a complete salad; or shovel into your mouth straight out of the serving bowl (my preferred method).

SIMPLE MARINATED GRILLED CHICKEN

3-4 chicken breasts
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. whole grain mustard

Liberally salt and pepper chicken breasts and combine with remaining ingredients in a Ziploc bag. Let marinate in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to 4 hours. Grill until cooked through or a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees. You could also use boneless, skinless thighs, although if I were doing that I would halve the amount of olive oil, they have much more fat.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

worth the reward

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 I have begun wearing yoga pants for ABY (anything but yoga) and I have an assortment of nursing tank tops from Target that have been a second skin for the past five months. Suffice to say I’m not in a place where I’m taking a lot of fashion “risks” (unless you count looking like a Total Mom a risk). However, in a time not so long ago I might go out on a limb with a “look” if you will. In fact I’ll have you know when I was 7 months pregnant I bought a pair of maroon suede dunks because I was absolutely certain that I was going to be the kind of mom who could pull off high tops. I realized when the pregnancy hormones/ online shopping high wore off that no, no I was not and rather than making me look like a cool sporty lady said dunks made my swollen calves look like leggings-clad tree trunks and it was essentially the female equivalent of a dad with an earring. But you know, you live and you learn.

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High tops aside, in most cases I hold a basic philosophy, or I guess you could call it a mantra, when it comes to a new item of clothing that I’m not quite sure I can pull off. I recited it my friend Val one afternoon in college when she was hesitating on wearing either a fedora or some parachute pants or a one shoulder tank top (or some other early 00’s fashion abomination that seemed amazingly haute couture at the time). “You just rock it” I told her. “Whenever I’m about to wear something that I’m not sure I can pull off, I just leave the house before I can reconsider.” The guarantee is this: before you can let enough self doubt creep in that you scuttle home and change at least three people will compliment you on the new look and you’ll find the risk is worth the reward. You just rock it. Wear the pants/hat/tank like you own it and the world will take notice.

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I find this basic philosophical framework bodes well towards cooking outside of your comfort zone as well. I guess these days since I’m spending less time crafting together smartly curated outfits I’m extending the “act first, think later” framework to our weeknight dinners. On a whim a few weeks ago I bought a big giant pack of soba noodles in an attempt to recreate something I had eaten from a Thai food truck. I was a little intimidated as I almost always am when it comes to a new ingredient that feels outside of my wheelhouse. But the end result was a new, healthy weeknight staple dish that is super fast and totally yummy. The risk of the new is almost always worth the reward of expansion, whether it’s jazzing up your wardrobe or spicing up your same stable of weeknight meals. And if we’re being serious here the worst thing that could happen in this scenario would be that dinner is a disaster and you have to order pizza. And if pizza is your worst case scenario well then, your life is alright.

GARLIC GINGER SOBA NOODLES 
with SPINACH and MUSHROOMS 

2 bundles Japanese Soba noodles (about ¼ a large package)
1-2 tbsp. oil (olive, grapeseed or canola)
1-2 tsp. butter
1 shallot, finely minced
3-4 scallions (white and light green parts only, dark green reserved)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2-3 tsp. ginger, grated
Equal parts shitake and white button mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 2- 2 ½ cups total)
1 bag baby spinach
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2-3 tbsp. soy sauce
1-2 tsp. Sriracha
4-5 dashes fish sauce
Generous drizzle of honey
½ to ¾ cup shelled edamame
½ cup cashews, toasted
Toasted Sesame Oil (optional)

Optional accompaniments:
Crispy Baked Tofu
Fried or hard boiled eggs

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Set a large pot of water to boil. In a large skillet, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté for about 2-3 minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring less frequently so they brown up a bit in spots, for about 5-8 minutes. If the pan gets very dry, feel free to add a touch more oil or another pat of butter. Add scallions, ginger and garlic and stir until fragrant (about 2 minutes), then add half of: soy sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce, Sriracha and a small drizzle of honey. Add edamame and spinach in handfuls until it wilts down.

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Taste and test sauce for flavor, adjust with reserved soy, vinegar, honey and Sriracha. If you want it a bit saltier add more soy, more tangy- add more vinegar, spicier- Sriracha or a bit more sweetness drizzle in a little more honey. Stir everything together and reduce heat to low. Drop soba noodles into salted water and stir around. Let cook according to package directions (usually only about 5 minutes); drain and add directly into the skillet of vegetables. Stir everything together and taste again. Adjust sauce if necessary, adding more of anything you think it may need; if you want it a bit more saucy, you can spoon in a little of the noodle water. Transfer noodles and veggies to bowls and serve with Crispy Baked Tofu or a fried or boiled egg on top, or both (you could also add sautéed shrimp, chicken or flank steak if you were feeling like you needed some animal protein). Garnish with chopped cashews, the reserved green scallions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

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Creative Commons License
 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.