Green Bean-Pomegranate Panzanella

Chicago is deep into an epic heat wave, so I’m guessing none of you wants to turn on your oven. I haven’t wanted to either, which is why, I suppose, I have a whole stable of salads and slaws to post here. Are you sick of them yet?

I’ll start with this updated green bean panzanella that I made for a beach trip last week to the Indiana Dunes. Kasia came to visit me, and, being the Bay Area softy (sorry, tootsie pop!!) that she is, the heat was hard for her to bear. What choice did I have but to pack a cooler and whisk her away to the water? Brandon joined us, we piled in the car, and crossed state lines.

The Indiana Dunes are a beautiful stretch of sandy beach nestled amongst dunes and hiking trails on Lake Michigan. After growing up near the Pacific, the experience of swimming in a large, saltless body of water is still surreal to me. It looks as endless as an ocean, so I keep expecting the back and forth pull of waves. It’s strange to have nothing to fight against. And it’s most especially strange that it is quiet. The noise of the water is the most defining characteristic of being on a California beach. When Jen asked me the other day to choose a body of water that described me (she was giving me some sort of personality test), I chose the Pacific. But, the endless placid lake has grown on me, and I was supremely happy to be there on a beautiful, sunny day.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely placid when we were there–hundreds were splashing around in it. Hoards of people had flocked to the shoreline, with radios and umbrellas and picnics of their own. As I lay in the sun, I let the voices ripple over me, catching a few stray words here and there, but mostly just torrents of human noise. Not quite the ocean, but still, it was soothing. Full tummies, good company: we had a marvelous day.

Green Bean Pomegranate Salad

1 lb. green beans or haricot verts, rinsed and ends snapped off
2 medium beets, roasted and peeled
1 pomegranate worth of seeds
5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 day-old baguette, sliced

approx. 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 and roast beets, skin on, for 1/2 an hour  until they are soft and cooked through. Let them cool and then remove the skins (or cheat and buy the pre-boiled beets from Trader Joe’s, which is what I did here). Chop them into 1/2-inch-sized chunks and add them to a large bowl.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet on high and warm grapeseed oil until it is hot (grapeseed oil has a higher smoke point and is better for cooking over high heat than olive oil). Toast the bread slices. Add to the large bowl with the beets.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl. Parboil the green beans for a minute or two, then, with a slotted spoon, move them immediately to the ice bath. Let them cool down, then drain. Add to the large bowl with the beets and bread.

Halve the pomegranate and squeeze out the seeds into the bowl. Crumble the goat cheese.

To make the vinaigrette: start with vinegar, mustard, garlic, and salt & pepper in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in until the liquids emulsify. Mustard contains pectin and, when you add it to a vinaigrette, you get a lovely, creamy emulsification. You can continue adding olive oil until you reach your desired consistency.

Toss the salad with the vinaigrette and set aside in your fridge or cooler. By the time you get to the beach, the bread will have absorbed all the flavor from the vinaigrette and the whole thing will be divine.

Beet Slaw

I thought the weather and I had come to a tacit understanding: I toughen up, make it through the gunk of winter; it gives me a few months of summer during which I can live relatively unmolested by it. But after a freak hailstorm that caused EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS worth of damage to my car last week, all bets are off. You hear me, weather? I don’t think you’re so cool anymore! I’m gonna complain my eyes out if I feel like it.

It happens to be a nice day today, so I’ll spare you any further grumbling. The humidity is low, the sun is high. I’m in an office, but dreaming of sponging up some sunshine soon. Here’s a recipe that’s perfect for a picnic, and’ll get you out of the kitchen quickly. Tristan showed me this a few months ago. You can eat the slaw on its own, in a salad, over brown rice, or stuffed in sandwiches. It’s tangy, sweet, fantastic. Beets are in the same family as spinach, chard, and quinoa, and are jam-packed with phytonutrients–their health benefits are matched only by their deliciousness.

Beet Slaw

3 small beets (or equivalent), peeled and shredded
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
2 tbsp. orange-champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar with a little orange juice)
salt and pepper
olive oil

In a bowl, whisk the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper together. Drizzle in the olive oil until all the liquids emulsify. Pour over the shredded beets. Will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Green Garlic and Cherry Tomato Focaccia

I realized the other day when talking to an old friend that I essentially have a philosophy on life: Try new things and eat vegetables. That’s it folks. If I had to sum up all the wisdom I’ve learned in my 29plus years on this planet, it would be that. Be adventurous, and find pleasure in the things that are good for you.

Yesterday, I spent a really lovely day with sunshine and good friends and a grill. We then spent some time at the Andersonville street fair, crammed full with people and craft booths and food. Pleasure, I think, is good for you. It’s a vegetable. It makes you feel attached to the world, participating in it. Friends are good for you.

Focaccia is good for you, especially if you top it with vegetables.

I made this the other day when it was thunderstorming and ridiculous outside.

I took out my aggression on the dough.

With the help of this book I picked up at Myopic:

After hand-kneading and triple rising, I got here:

adapted from the Good Housekeeping Baking Cookbook

1 1/2 c. warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3 3/4 c. bread flour
5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. kosher or course sea salt

1 package of cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
1 head of green garlic, rinsed, peeled, and diced
3 to 4 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
1/2 c. parmesan
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine 1/2 c. warm water, yeast, and sugar; stir to dissolve. Let stand 5 minutes, or until foamy. Add remaining 1 c. warm water,  flour, 2 tbsp. oil, and table salt; stir to combine.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 7 minutes, or until smooth and elastic (dough will be soft; do not add more flour). Shape dough into ball; place in greased large bowl, turning dough over to coat. Cover bowl and let stand in warm place (80 to 85 degrees) until doubled, about 1 hour.

Make the toppings: Over medium heat in a pan, saute the green garlic (with a bit of salt and pepper) until soft. Set aside to cool.

Lightly oil a cookie sheet with a lip (not one that talks back; I mean one that has about an inch-long border around all sides). Punchdown dough and pat into prepared pan. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes. With fingertips, make deep indentations, i inch apart, over entire surface of dough, almost to bottom of pan. Drizzle with remaining 3 tbsp. oil; sprinkle with kosher salt. Cover looselty and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450.

Sprinkle the garlic evenly over the dough. Spread the tomato halves over the dough. Sprinkle the thyme, then salt and pepper. Grate the cheese and sprinkle over everything.

Bake focaccia on lowest rack about 18 minutes, or until bottom is crusty and top is lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Then here.


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
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).

(Guest Blogger) Swedish Pancakes with the Swedish Chef

Yesterday, Joel schooled me in the joys of Swedish dessertery. Turns out, Swedes can flip a mean pancake!

My flipping skills could use a little work, but these pancakes are super easy and delicious.

Dispatch from the Swedish Chef:

This weekend I got an extra day by virtue of some failed brakes, and the trains to Indiana being down for construction. The thunderstorms had already come and gone, and although I think Chicago weather reported those storms to be coming from the east, in my limited experience the lighting I left behind in South Bend was only anomalously related to that of Chicago. I’m Swedish, and when I was a kid and caught inside all day, Swedish pancakes (pannkakor) made by my mom were worth waiting for even more than the storm’s pass.

Joel teaching his brother how it's done

swedish chef in training

Swedish Chef in training

In fact, the pancakes Kate and I made on Sunday just may have brought the sun with them. Since it’s still in the forties though, the old Swedish tradition of pea soup and pancakes (which, since the Middle Ages, have been eaten on Thursdays before the Friday fast- and are still served on that day in Swedish cafés, sans Catholicism) is perfect for taking the edge off whatever spring transition might have caught you unawares.

Our cooking was aided by the virtuoso pop dramatist Jens Lekman:

Swedish Pancakes
2 ägg (2 eggs)
6 dl mjölk (2 2/3 c. milk)
3 dl mjöl (1 1/3 c. flour)
1 msk smör (1 tbsp. butter)

3 dl = 1 1/3 cup

In a large mixing bowl crack 2 eggs, and add 1 1/3 cups milk. Whisk and then add 1 1/3 cups flour- whisk that in, and then add another 1 1/3 cups milk- whisk again. This can be made before the soup and put in the fridge. When you turn the frying pan on begin by melting one tablespoon of butter- add that to the batter.

The pan should be quite hot. Add enough batter so that when you twirl the pan it reaches to the edges. Swedish pancakes are slightly thicker than French crepes, but are by no means American pancakes. We did notice bubbles though, or little translucent areas in the middle. That’s good. After a couple minutes loosen the edges of the pancake with a spatula, until you find your way under it and flip! The loosening is the most difficult part, and expect it to take practice. The underside of the pancake should have brown rings or spots. Don’t use the spatula to even out the flipped pancake unless necessary, rather lift the pan up and shake the pancake flat. It shouldn’t take more than a minute on its second side. Then flip it onto a plate to stack. You can fold into quarter size in the pan first if you like. Or just feed it directly to whoever’s waiting. (My younger brother and I would shingle our pancake consumption as Mamma served us from the pan.)

Pannkakor can be sweetened with lemon juice and sugar, or your favorite jam, watered down a bit in a small bowl. (We used blackberry, and strawberry is classic.) Spread the topping down the middle of your pancake in a line and fold over there and then roll the same way you folded. It was a great pleasure as a child to just feed this tube into my mouth with bare hands, but now I get a comparable kick from the ruse of sophistication provided by knives and forks.