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Guest Blogger: Matt’s Wild Rice, Kabocha, and Vegetable Pilaf

My good friend Matt has been self-publishing a vegetarian/vegan cookbook with his wife, Rachel, every year for Christmas for the last ten years. Needless to say, he is a veritable treasure trove of amazing recipes. Thankfully, all my prodding and pleading has finally led to a guest post! Here he channels the idea of fall (I say “idea” because, you know, he lives in Oakland) into a gorgeous medley of deliciousness.

When not cooking, Matt's being a great dad to Oslo (who's now a wee bit older than in this pic, but just as cute!)

Kate and I have had a long running discussion of just what the order the seasons take out here in Northern California. After much debate, we’ve settled on “Spring, Winter, Indian Summer, Fall.” Given that it was 84 degrees here in the Bay Area last weekend, but just 70 by Tuesday, it feels like Indian Summer is on its way out, and Fall (which runs from November to March), is picking up speed.That means that we’re just starting to get a hint of our fall veggies in our CSA box, and fall means squashes! 

wild rice pilafSquashes are a fun vegetable because they’re so flexible; depending on our mood and the weather, we will use the many kinds of squashes we get to make soups, pupusas, curries or many other kinds of dishes. But sometimes, when you’re first getting reacquainted with your seasonal foods, it’s nice to just keep it simple.

This recipe relies on a roasted kabocha squash, with just a bit of allspice to bring out the earthiness, plus the always-needed salt and pepper. The rice pilaf, we threw together with whatever vegetables we had on hand, and we were lucky enough to get fresh-picked cranberry beans in our box last week as well, which gave the meal more heft.

Wild Rice, Kabocha, and Vegetable Pilaf

1 c. wild rice or wild rice mix
3 c. broth
1 clove garlic, peeled but whole
1 large or two small kabocha squash, seeded and sliced or cubed
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1 dozen crimini mushrooms, quartered
1/2 c. peas, frozen or fresh
2 c. cooked white beans (we used cranberry beans, but cannelini or great northern beans would work well too)
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. sage
Allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil or butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a rice cooker or saucepan, combine the rice, broth and whole garlic clove. Cook until the rice is done.

Once the squash is sliced or cubed, lay flat on a lightly oiled baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, pepper and allspice. Bake for 20-30 minutes, turning over or stirring once, until easily pierced with a fork.

While the squash cooks, sauté the onions, garlic and carrots in 1-2 tablespoons of butter or oil, until the onion is translucent. Add the rosemary, thyme and sage and cook for one minute more, while stirring. Add the mushrooms, peas and beans, stir for one minute, then cover and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are cooked. You may want to add a little bit of water or broth to prevent sticking.

Serve immediately, either after combining the rice and vegetables in the skillet, or separately.

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Maple-Black-Pepper Pork Chops

This song came on during my commute to work this morning, and it has, thus far, completely made my day.

I realized, as I was bopping along to this, that I actually like my commute. I’ve always been fond of transition spaces–airports, trains, waiting rooms–spaces that have no other function than to hold you while you wait for something to end or something to begin. And that’s essentially what my commute is, especially in the morning. The traffic isn’t too bad, the scenery is varied and interesting, and I have half an hour of just time, maybe the only moment like it in my day. I move from the northside of Chicago to the southside, over a tangle of highways, streets, neighborhoods, buildings, and people.

September itself is a transition; it starts out in summer, but by today, the last of it, it is undeniably not. Not lazy, not gluttonous, not warm. The leaves are starting to change, I’m wearing a jacket every day, the air is crisp. I love the brightness of the light and the chill of the breeze. I love roasting vegetables and picking apples and making pies. But, still–I’m not entirely there yet. I’m still in the transition stage. I look up and see that it’s the last day of September and I think I’ve been driving too fast, moving through the months so quickly. I’m just about ready for this season, but part of me misses summer.

I’m trying, though. I made this the other day, and this recipe is most certainly a fall recipe, with maple as its dominate flavor. It may sound overly sweet, but it’s really not. The shallots, thyme, and black peppercorns round it out. I served this with roasted butternut squash and poured the sauce over the whole shebang. With a light endive salad to add a crispness, this was a perfect fall meal.

Maple Black Pepper Pork Chops

2 bone-in, thick-cut pork chops
1 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 1/2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 c. maple syrup (Grade B or Dark Amber)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, season the pork chops well with 3/4 tsp of salt. Pour the oil into a large ovenproof skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the chops when the oil is warm, and cook for four or five minutes on each side, until they are well browned.

Flip the chops, then carefully transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook until their internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, just a few minutes, depending on thickness of the chops. Set the chops aside and cover loosely with foil.

Place the skillet back on medium-high heat. Sautee the shallot with thyme and the rest of the salt until the shallot becomes transluscent.

Pour in the vinegar and scrapte the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits. Reduce heat to a simmer, and let reduce for 2 minutes. Then add the maple syrup and crushed black pepper. Return to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes.

Serve the sauce over the chops.

Guest Columnist: Angela’s Cheap-Ass Dinners

My friend Angela knows how to make a mean meal on a few measly dollars, and wants to share her wisdom with you. She’ll be blogging her thrifty, sassy heart out here for us on occasion. Today she brings you: Taco Bowl. This tasty concoction will provide you with a snappy dinner for two and only set you back about $13. Total.

Taco bowls make me think of faux Mexican fast food, a la Taco Bell, or an out-of-touch Midwestern homemaker experimenting with Kraft cheeses and Velveeta. Taco bowls are not authentic Mexican food, and as a staunch supporter of my little neighborhood Mexican grocery store, I feel a bit like I’m letting its super-friendly employees down. But everyone knows the best food is usually a guilty pleasure, and this one happens to be both delicious and cheap. So here’s my recipe for a homemade taco bowl.

Perfect for cranky, crummy Monday nights.

Ingredients:

1 small spanish onion – $0.30
2-3 cloves of garlic – $0.50
olive oil
Cumin powder – $2
2 cans black beans (Goya is best), drained and rinsed – $2
1 can vegetable or chicken stock – $1
1 tablespoon mole – $3/jar
Corn tortillas – $0.33
3 or 4 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
Your favorite salsa – $2
Cilantro – $1
Limes – $1

Makes 2-3 servings.

First, you must make the mole.  In a small pot, heat the 3 parts stock and 1 part mole paste on medium-low heat until the mole is totally dissolved. Taste, and go ahead and add more mole paste if you’d like.  In the meantime dice your onions and mince your garlic, and in a medium pot, sautee both in olive oil until the onions are soft and translucent.  Add as much cumin as you can stand (I love the stuff, so I used about 3 or 4 teaspoons), and let cook over low heat for about a minute.

Add the beans to your onion, garlic and cumin mixture, and stir so that the beans and onions are well mixed.  Add the mole, and stir again. Cover the beans and increase the heat to medium. Let it come to a bubbling boil, stir, cover, and then bring to a low simmer.  Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the beans are softened, increase the heat to medium and uncover it so that most of the excess liquid boils off, 15-20 minutes.  This will make the beans like a thick porridge and not soupy.

Next, heat the canola or vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat.  Tear your tortillas into 2-3 inch strips or triangles, and add to the oil.  Using tongs, flip the tortillas over so that both sides are a golden brown, and then place them on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.

By this time, your black beans should be thick and mushy, and your tortilla strips should be crispy.  Scoop a helping of the black beans into a bowl, add some tortilla strips on top, and garnish with cilantro, salsa and fresh lime juice.

Greek Cucumber Salad Sandwich

The theme of my summer has been eating outdoors, thanks to this highly useful and necessary purchase I made in July:
This pimped-out cooler makes picnicking a snap, and very quickly became the MVP of the season. My summer, which officially came to a close last week (boo), was filled with a bounty of delicious, simple meals that were packed into the cooler and then unpacked at one of Chicago’s lovely outdoor spaces. I have the good fortune of living a block from Humboldt Park, which is a 207-acre greenspace filled with ponds, baseball fields, gardens, and a weekly impromptu classic-car parade. Pimped-out cooler made it super easy to transform a weeknight dinner into an outdoor excursion, complete with entertainment (baseball and soccer games seem to happen every night of the summer).
picnic at humboldt park
Luckily my partner-in-outdoor-eating agrees that there’s no reason to eat indoors if the weather allows. One day, I came home from work to a packed cooler and a Brandon with a plan. You may know that there’s no quicker way to my heart than to cook for me, but cooking for me AND taking it outdoors is a sure win. So he earned some big points with this delicious picnic, comprised of tangy Greek cucumber salad sandwiches and a crisp white wine.
greek cucumber salad sandwiches
The weather was perfect, with a blue sky and gentle clouds. The sun set behind the baseball field as the kids finished their game.
Maybe it’s cruel to post this summery recipe on a day like today, with gray, cold rain, and no end in sight. But I’m not ready to put pimped-out cooler away for the year yet; consider this an incantation asking the weather to let me squeeze in just a few more picnics. If you get the chance, make these sandwiches and eat them outdoors. They’ll transport  you back to a lazy August afternoon, make you forget about the rain.
Greek Cucumber Salad Sandwich
Adapted from Epicurious.com 

2 1/2 pounds Japanese, Persian, or English hothouse cucumbers
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup labneh (Lebanese yogurt cheese) or Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed well, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 9×7 inch loaves focaccia, halved horizontally, or 8 ciabatta rolls
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using English cucumbers, split lengthwise and remove seeds (leave other varieties whole). Arrange cucumbers on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, cut side down. Brush with melted butter. Roast cucumbers until crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate; chill until cold.

Cut Japanese or Persian cucumbers lengthwise in half. Cut hothouse cucumber halves lengthwise in half. Slice crosswise into 1/4 inch-thick pieces. Whisk Greek yogurt and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in sliced cucumbers and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season filling to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired.

Brush cut sides of focaccia or rolls with olive oil; place on a baking sheet and toast in a 400° oven until just crispy and lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Divide filling among focaccia bottoms, cover with tops, and cut each into 4 sandwiches (or divide filling among rolls).

picnic sandwich

Lentil Burgers

lentil burger

Though the weather in Chicago hasn’t fully committed to summer, its people have. And damn straight. We deserve it after such a crappy, gray spring. The festivals are in full bloom, farmers markets are back, bikers are flooding the streets. And the barbecues! You can walk down the street at any given time of day and inhale the tell-tale smell of charcoal and grilled meats wafting from balconies.

This burger didn’t make it to any party, but was a thrifty reuse of lentil leftovers, which had started their life in this iteration:

And ended up, the next day, like this:

Homemade Lentil Burgers

For the lentils:

1 c. dried lentils, rinsed (I used red lentils, but any would work)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, rinsed, ends removed, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 tbsp. tamarind concentrate
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
bay leaf
water to cover
salt and pepper

For the burgers:
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. flour, added gradually

Plus toppings:
Manchego cheese
butter lettuce
ketchup
mustard
on a toasted bun or toasted wheat bread

In a large pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic and onions and gently saute for a minute, then add the carrots and celery. Sprinkle in salt and pepper and let the veggies soften, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add in the lentils, tamarind, bay leaf, vinegar, and cover well with water. Let them simmer vigorously for about half an hour, stirring occasionally and checking to see that there’s still enough liquid in the pot. You want them to absorb most of the liquid, but not burn. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

You can eat some now if you’d like (try them with roasted asparagus, fried egg, a drizzle of balsamic, and grated parmesan). If you do eat some before you make the burgers, then be sure to halve the amount of egg and flour you use for the burgers.

When the lentils have cooled and you are ready for burgers, add them to a mixing bowl. Add the egg(s), and gradually stir in the flour. The consistency should be thick enough to fry. The more flour you add, the denser the burgers will be.

Bring a few tablespoons of oil in a pan to a very high heat. Spoon a large heap of the batter into the hot oil and flatten with a spatula. Let it fry a few minutes, until you can see that the sides are brown. Flip. Add cheese. Fry until the sides brown, another few minutes. Serve with the fixin’s I suggested above, or any that float your boat! Bask in your thriftiness! And (hopefully) the summer sun!

Bacon-Tomato Pasta (Divine)

So, perhaps you’ve just made the split pea soup from my last post and you have a half a pound of thick-cut bacon leftover. What to do? Might I suggest maximizing its potential as one half of the finest flavor duo known to mankind? Bacon and tomatoes. An indubitably fated coupling, much like Laurel and Hardy, Hall and Oates, Pinky and the Brain. One can get on without the other, but together, they’ve found their calling.

It’s a proven fact that bacon is a miracle food that can make anything spectacular. It’s like the circus freak of the edible kingdom–you can add it to anything and it’ll perform to standing ovation. Bacon could probably make dirty laundry taste good. But add it to tomatoes, especially in a slow-cooked sauce poured over my favorite carb, topped with cheese, and you’ve basically given your taste buds an expletive-deleted, moment of intense pleasure explosion.

It needs a better name, really, but I can’t come up with one that really pinpoints the titillating properties. Bacasm?

Perhaps My Favorite Pasta

1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1 c. white wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 12 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 8 oz can V-8 juice
salt & pepper
1/2 lb. penne

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

In another large pot, cook the bacon over med-low until it renders its fat, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, salt & pepper, thyme, and bay leaves: cook until the veggies become translucent. Add wine and reduce by half.

Run the can of tomatoes through a blender or food processor.

Add the tomatoes and V-8 and simmer for a good half hour. Adjust salt to taste.

Cook the penne al dente. Add to the sauce to coat. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Save a piece of bacon for Charlie, who is as obsessed with it as I am:

cat loves bacon

i can haz bacon?

Pea Soup Soto’s

One of my favorite things to do is to drive along the coast of California. I went to college in Santa Cruz, and I used to make the drive back and forth to LA all the time. Those trips in my little Ford Escort were most certainly where I cemented my love of road trips. I get how long drives might be tedious to some, but I adore the in-between space it affords: open road, open time ahead of you, tunes, a view. Somewhere along the way, I discovered Pea Soup Andersen’s–a small roadside diner specializing in pea soup. The diner looks like the Tiki Room at Disneyland gone Swedish (cuckoo clocks instead of singing birds). And the soup, for all the hype, is truly fantastic.

The best eateries in the world are roadside diners. To get people to turn off the highway and get out of their cars, roadside restaurants know they have to be pretty special. The Madonna Inn, for instance, is just up the road from Pea Soup Andersen’s, and does nothing less than a pink-and-brass mambo all over your senses–pink sugar, waterfalls in the men’s bathroom, amazing pancakes. Can any place match the roadside genre in themes, decor, and comfort food? When there’s nothing but the lonely road ahead of you, you want something that sticks to your guts, both in food and funky kitsch.

This is a soup that you want with you on the open road. There are a million ways to approach it, but here’s a rustic, hearty one. Vegemetarians can easily skip the bacon and cook the veggies in olive oil instead.

Pea Soup

1 c. dried green peas
3 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. of thick-cut bacon, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme
1 c. white wine
2 russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
16 oz. stock
2 c. water

In a sieve, rinse the peas and set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat renders, but don’t let it get too crisp. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside.

Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the bacon fat, and sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Let them cook until they soften, about 5 minutes. Cover the veggies in the wine and let it reduce for a few minutes. Throw in the bay leaves and the thyme.

Add the peas and potatoes and coat them in the veggies and oil. Cover in stock and water and turn the heat to medium-high. Let it come to a boil and continue to boil for awhile, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and cook until peas and potatoes are cooked through. Add the bacon back in. Add salt to taste. With a potato masher, smoosh everything to desired consistency (smooshy).