Tag Archives: dinner

Restaurant Junkie

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Just so you know, when you eat out or order in for a full month your wallet shrinks and your waist-line bulges. It may be fun and relaxed during that time. The feel of a menu in hand may become second nature. Different places you “always meant to try” are given a chance. You call a friend up for a quick bite out more often. If your poison is dining out, you may stroll around the neighborhoods, taking walks after meals more readily than if dining at home.

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“Try this,” prompts the bartender and suddenly you are tasting an amazing wine you’d be ignorant of had you been home sitting in your pajamas drinking PBR eating PBJ. Ordering in allows you the luxury of trading in that humble PBJ for a swankier calzone while still donning  pajamas. Eventually however, you do not come to feel very well. Your body becomes accustomed to, addicted to even, greasy take-out. Your cells yearn for fresh produce. Lack of dish-washing, it seems, also equates to lack of energy. The doorman might receive you with looks of either pity or judgment each time you go to pick up your super spicy hot pepper beef with extra veggies and a side of egg rolls. Your neighbors may single you out as the one whose recycling burgeons out with plastic take-out trays and menus.

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And even if you have mastered the art of ordering the healthiest dishes offered, it is unlikely your income can keep up forever. $40 worth of food ordered from a restaurant is not equivalent to $40 worth of groceries. No amount of justifying leftovers or Groupons will make up for that. Also, dining out often leads to drinking out which ups the tab considerably, 1- because drinks are expensive and 2 – drinks make you forget the price of drinks which leads to ordering more rounds of drinks.

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It wasn’t an experiment or a  conscious decision. I have not been travelling (unfortunately) or trying to woo anyone incessantly. It just somehow happened that I ate out for an entire month. Whether ordering, picking up food on the way home or eating out I avoided home-cooked meals. My bank account and body suffered tremendously as a result. To break myself of this terrible streak I made a shopping list the length of a Russian novel and headed with my boyfriend- the incredibly patient Ryan – to the grocery store to fill the pantry and fridge with mostly healthy things.

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Following my absence from the kitchen (aside from re-heating delivery pizza) I decided to ease back into cooking with a fond, nourishing dish easily thrown together with sausage, swiss chard and some type of grain. Luckily I had picked up farro, one of those versatile, filling grains with a deliciously nutty quality that I somehow always, and unforgivably, overlook.

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I am not sure if it is every Trader Joe’s or just the one we go to down State Street, but it has about two dozen different varieties of chicken sausage.  Curiosity led me to grab the Maple syrup and apple package that works in this dish  if you love sweet and savory flavors together, but I see how it could be more successfully highlighted at breakfast.

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So here is a recipe after a month-long hiatus of cooking. Something simple, clean and refreshing after all of the deliciously heavy meals I have had this month. Something to warm you up if you are as cold as I am here in Chicago and something to fill you up if you are lucky enough to be warm right now and just simply hungry. Enjoy.

Farro and Chicken Sausage with Rainbow Swiss Chard

For the farro:
½ c quick-cook farro*
1 c broth (chicken or vegetable)
olive oil
2-3 chicken sausages, cut into rounds
1 Tbsp butter
½ c diced onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

For the swiss chard:
1 bunch rainbow swiss chard, cleaned and dried
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp olive oil
¼ cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper, to taste

Add farro to 1 cup broth in a saucepan. Set on high and cover until boiling. Watch as it has a tendency to boil over at this point. Reduce heat to low, cover again and let it simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat  when it’s al dente and let farro stand for another 5 minutes, still leaving pot covered. Drain any excess liquid. Season with some salt and pepper and set aside.

Next, prepare the swiss chard. I chose rainbow to add some color to the meal, but it really doesn’t matter. You can even substitute kale. Take the swiss chard stalks and chop them into small pieces. Set a medium sauté pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the garlic and sauté until it becomes lightly golden in color. Add the swiss chard and the broth and stir to coat the leaves. Cover pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir leaves again and check for tenderness. They should be just wilted but not too crunchy in the center. Add the red pepper and salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat add a dash of olive oil. Add the chicken sausage pieces to the pan and brown them. Once done, remove these to a plate.

Add the butter, onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté these until tender, adding a little pat of more butter if you need to. This should take about 5 minutes. Add the farro, chicken sausage and stir everything together until warmed through. Serve on top of or stir together with the swiss chard.

* I found quick-cook farro at Trader Joe’s, however this can be done with regular farro just be sure to pre-soak the grain for 30 minutes, drain and then gently simmer for about 30-45 minutes.

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The Most Popular Girl At The Office

One day for lunch at a previous place of employment, I absent-mindedly brought leftover fish for lunch to the office. It was cod too. I heated it up in the microwave and a blanket of fish odor wafted from the break room, into the lobby and followed me to my cube as I carried the Pyrex dish with me back to my desk. Never do this, just don’t. You will sit in this cloud of stench for at least an hour after. In fact, your co-workers will most likely dub you ‘Stench’. Back in eighth grade a boy who I thought was revolting, and most likely had a crush on me, told everyone I smelled like kippers for the entire day…which felt like two weeks at that time. As if being thirteen isn’t awkward enough, I was then taunted because my classmates thought I smelled like stinky kippers. If you are unfamiliar with these fish, which I gather are herring that have been salted and then smoked, go out and buy a jar to eat with some crackers. Just be sure to crack open a window or two. They are delicious and good for you, but viciously odorous. Back in my office and now older I was, once again, a social pariah except this time of my own doing. The day before, what had been a scrumptious lightly breaded fillet of fresh cod was now my down-fall, my thorn – a hot pile of white fish with soggy clumps of panko clinging to its exterior in a puddle of juice. Yes, my leftovers were not so delicious leftover, nor did they earn me any friends. I ate quickly to appease a nagging appetite, rummaged through the employee storage closet for some air freshener to tidy up the crime scene, ran out of there and took a nice, long walk in hopes that the fishy smell would dissipate by the time my lunch break was over. I cannot remember if it smelled like cod when I got back to my desk, but I do know that the closest thing to fish I ever brought back to that place were of the Swedish gummy variety.

Here is the meal that was served the evening prior to the incident at the office.

This is what happens when you are over-zealous with flipping over your pan-frying fish. Be careful.

Panko-Crusted Cod
Serves 2-3

Ingredients
1 lb cod
Salt and pepper
¼ cup flour
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1 cup panko crumbs
2 tablespoons oil

Rinse and pat the cod fillets dry. Season with salt and pepper. Set up a nice ‘dunking station’ by placing the flour, eggs and panko crumbs in separate, shallow bowls side-by-side and in that order with a plate at the end. Dunk the fillets first in the flour, then the egg wash and finally the panko ensuring that they are covered entirely after each step. Place them on the plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large skillet (preferably cast iron) and heat to medium-high. Once oil heats up, place two fillets of same thickness in skillet and cook 4-8 minutes per side, depending on thickness. Once panko is golden-brown and the fish is white and flaky inside, remove from heat. Add the other tablespoon of oil and cook remaining fillets. Cod may be kept warm in an oven set at 200 degrees until ready to serve with your choice of sides and sauces. Re-heating the next day in a cramped office setting, not recommended.

And, a little potpourri to end with. Ahhhhh!

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Heat Wave

Yesterday was HOT. So hot. Romance aside, this month has been a steamy one. Facebook has been burgeoning with pictures of car thermometer readings over 100. People travel to work in as little as they can get away with. Bitter sweetly, it has been too hot to eat or drink aside from ice water and cold fresh fruit. Back from a lunch meeting yesterday, I sat in my air-conditioned apartment tempted by the bright sunlight from outdoors, but I knew better. Once outside, I’d either wilt or become irritable. I was reminded of the intense hotel scene in the Great Gatsby…nothing good comes from extreme heat.  I contemplated mixing up a big batch of mint juleps, which is what I think the characters in that novel choose to get drunk on to stave off the heat, but I wanted  something refreshingly non-alcoholic on a day like yesterday where I begrudgingly paid a cab driver $7 just to get me 5 blocks home.
 

 

I love Nigella Lawson’s book, “Forever Summer” for some perfect and simple recipes on uncomfortably warm days .  My parents thoughtfully picked it up for me in a small bookshop on a vacation of theirs. Her accompanying vignettes for each recipe are so well-written and entertaining, I’ve spent an afternoon reading the book as a volume of short-stories. Here is a fantastic Greek salad recipe and mint and lime cool aid from her book that, from experience, help one cool off.

 

 

Don’t worry that there are no cucumbers, which tend to get soggy anyway…this is the best Greek salad I have ever had. In fact, Nigella warns her readers just how addictive it is. The onions marinate in vinegar for a couple of hours which not only softens their texture but sweetens their taste, allowing them to meld together perfectly with the wine vinegar. The recipe calls for some ingredients that were unfortunately not in the house, nor nearby as I live in the grocery store desert of the Chicago Loop district with a few mom-and-pop shops or Walgreens to fill in the gaps.  There are some places not too far to walk if it were not so miserably hot. With this in mind: the salad is great even without the fennel, using white wine vinegar and swapping white onions for the red…Enjoy!

Greek Salad
Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer

 
1 red onion (may sub white)
1 tbsp dried oregano
Pinch of black pepper
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (may sub white)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
5 fresh beefsteak tomatoes
1 teaspoon caster sugar
pinch of sea salt
1 large head of romaine lettuce
4 ½ oz pitted black olives
14 oz feta cheese
juice of half a lemon

 
Peel and finely slice the onion then sprinkle over the oregano and season with pepper. Pour in the vinegar and olive oil and toss well, cover with clingfilm and leave to sit for at least 2 hours. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and then cut each quarter into quarters (Nigella suggests always lengthwise here for fine segments rather than chunks). Sprinkle the sugar and a pinch of salt over them and set aside. Wash the lettuce and tear into bite-size pieces, placing them in a large salad bowl. Slice the fennel and add, then the tomatoes, olive and crumbled feta. Pour in the onion mixture and add the lemon juice.  Toss gently to combine ingredients.

 
It’s funny how something so simple as oregano, onions and vinegar could be so delicious, but  together they are and I cannot wait to tuck into my leftovers.
 

 
I am a fiend for citrus beverages and this limeade with a touch of mint is incredible on a hot day.

Mint and Lime Cool Aid
Recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer

8 limes (or enough to make 1 cup of juice)
¾ – 1 cup of caster sugar
bunch of fresh mint with some sprigs reserved for pitcher
5 cups water
ice cubes

Remove the zest for 4 limes using a vegetable peeler and put this, along with the sugar, mint and 1 cup of the water into the saucepan. Bring this mixture to a boil., stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once this starts boiling, turn the heat down and let the liquid simmer for about 5 minutes. Take this off the heat, allow to cool and then strain into a jug or pitcher.

Squeeze the limes to make about 1 cup of juice and then add, with the rest of the water to the jug of sugar syrup. Add some ice cubes and a few sprigs of mint.

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Belated Squash

On a grocery store trip to buy some eggs, mushrooms, wine and feta…I found this Tang-colored butternut squash and decidedly placed it in my basket.

It was unplanned, but a deserved purchase. Thanksgiving day I had visited two TWO!! stores in search of this particular squash to make a refined gratin with hazelnuts and goat cheese, but as can be expected my last-minute attempt was a fool’s errand. That day, uninspired with the green acorn squash and receiving negative feedback on the spaghetti variety, I decided on some chipotle dusted sweet potato fries which are never a sad compromise.

I’ll admit the squash was purchased a bit out of spite. Thanksgiving, I resented not being able to find a vegetable that makes its way into my kitchen maybe twice a year when I actually had a plan for it. This time, the squash sat on my counter for a few days as a festive gourd while I mustered up another creative vocation for its orange innards.

Ravioli. The inspiration came to me when I decided a real hands-on approach to dinner might be ‘fun’. I was able to merge goat cheese and butternut squash after all.

Assembling the ravioli with won-ton wrappers is a much easier approach to making ravioli at home. The trick is to push all of the air from between the pastry sheets before sealing them. Using a circle biscuit cutter or cup to cut the ravioli into a circle makes for unintentionally pretty utilitarian shapes.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter and Pecans

1 butternut squash
1 onion chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground sage
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
2/3 cups goat cheese
60 won ton wrappers
1 stick butter
1/3 pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts chopped and toasted

Preheat oven to 425. Place squash on baking sheet flesh side down and roast until middle is soft, about 30 minutes. Scoop out flesh into bowl and smash with a fork until smooth. In a skillet cook the onion and sage in the butter with some salt and pepper over medium heat until onion is golden brown. Stir in garlic and cook for about a minute. Remove from heat and cool. Once cooled, stir into squash along with the goat cheese.

On a floured surface lay down a won ton wrapper. Place one tablespoon of the squash mixture into the center on the wrapper. Rub each side of the wrapper with water and place another wonton wrapper on top. Keep in mind that the wrappers are forgiving, so be patient when trying to push air out and seal the pastry. Cut into a circle using a cup or biscuit cutter, if desired.

Cook the ravioli in batches with a delicate hand. Boil salted water in a large pot. Cook ravioli for about 6 minutes, turning water down so it is not at a rolling boil. Remove from water with a large slotted spoon.

In a skillet, heat up the nuts for about 2 minutes. Add the sliced butter. Cook for a couple minutes, stirring. Watch for it to turn brown. Remove from heat.

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

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