What a whirlwind this winter has been! Geez! Work, school, weddings, visits with family and friends, freezing cold weather, sweaty hot weather vacation, back to work and school. And somehow it is March! And 60 degrees in Missouri, which is very, very welcome and much appreciated… but I still can’t figure out where February and January went. Do you know? They must have blown by me in a wintry blur.
50 shades of plane
Throughout the Jan-Feb blur I sustained myself on sad things like Foods Sold By Panera Bread, cereal, canned beans and frozen brown rice, kimchi and pickles delivered fork-to-mouth from the jar, and frozen Ghirardelli chocolate. YUM. My poor husband was left to fend for himself (shout out to the Whole Foods hot bar). I managed to cook a couple of times in February; here’s a recipe I chose for a day when my body was screaming at me for much-needed veggies and grains already, woman! Put down the chocolate!
BROWN WILD RICE WITH CAREMELIZED ONIONS, CREMINIS, AND GREENS
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1/3 cup uncooked wild rice
2 2/3 cup water or stock
1 tsp veggie base or bullion if using water
1 tbsp butter (omit for vegan recipe)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly into rings or half moons
As if belonging to the YMCA doesn’t make me happy enough, my local Y has started a book exchange program (a well-intentioned, pile, rather) in its lobby. Members donate books they’re done with to the pile and the donated books become fair game for anyone who’s interested. On my way in and out, I stop to scan the boxes and bags and bins of books for new finds. The selection is delightfully varied and makes me love my fellow members even more, quirky smarty pantses that they are. Recently, I made quite the haul when I lifted a few tattered textbooks to find six (SIX!) Peter Mayle books peeking out from underneath the castoffs like rays of Mediterranean sun. “Bring us home!,” they said, “love us and read us and dream of meals in Provence with us!” Um, OKAY GUYS!
It’s cliché to be an escapist American or Brit who loves to read Peter Mayle, but I’m an American who loves to read Peter Mayle. I really, really do. His books fill the mind with Provençal scents and smells and breezes and dreams of sunny, lazy lunches soaked in wine and olive oil that are much cheaper to read about than to create (faster, too). A Year In Provence and Encore Provence are favorites of mine, as is A Good Year, which Ridley Scott made into a Russell Crowe-starring movie in 2006. Also cliché: women who love Russell Crowe movies. I don’t want to, I try not to, there’s nothing interesting or noble in doing so… but my heart can’t be swayed. He was wonderful in A Good Year, as was lovely Marion Cotillard. Such pretty people in such a pretty setting. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? Speaking of the pretty setting, let’s take a look at the grounds of Château la Canorgue, where the movie was filmed. Le sigh.
So very lovely. A Good Year, both book and movie, are near and dear to me. If you want to make a fast, faux getaway to the south of France, check out A Good Year or A Year In Provence. Here’s my warm-weather recipe inspired by the currently very warm St. Louis weather, the good luck of finding a stack of favorite books, and the hazy, sepia-toned romance of A Good Year. I imagine Max and Fanny serving this in the leafy shade of their terrace on a sunny Provençal day…
Last weekend was heavenly. I took a solo roadtrip (complete with eight-hour, one-woman karaoke sesh), I got to race in a beautiful part of the country, and I got to see my sisters, brothers-in-law, and magnificent niece and nephew. I did the things I love the most with many of the people I love the most. The only conceivable improvement would have been having Dave there with me, but that might have caused me to explode with happiness… I am thankful for the weekend with my family and am much more content undetonated.My baby sis lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, which has become one of my favorite places to visit since she moved there in 2005. Knoxville is a charming, deliciously Southern city on the Tennessee River and its people are as lovely as its scenery (read: quite). Said lovely people are polite and gracious and their local food is fantastic (they have a biscuit festival- a biscuit festivaaaal), so even if I hadn’t had a super fun race planned, I was delighted to be spending time in tasty, sunny, welcoming Knox.
The race that brought me in, the Rev3 triathlon, is held in World’s Fair Park and was a three-pronged race this year. There was a 70.3 distance, an Olympic, and a hybrid Championship distance for athletes who qualified at various Rev3 events throughout the season. 2014 marked the last year Rev3 would host a professional race with a prize purse- controversy! They’re trying out a new age group-based model that eliminated the pro race entirely. I’ll miss the excitement of watching the pros and it’ll be interesting to see how the races change with the offer of money for age-groupers. Will lower-tier pros race as age groupers? Who’s going to come out of the woodwork now that there’s money on the table? Will participation grow or shrink? Will this raise the likelihood of doping among age-groupers? How will testing work and will it be more frequent? So many nerdy triathlon questions, aagghhhh!!
Anyway, I raced the Olympic Aquabike, a funky little combination that not a lot of people participate in- it’s just a .9 mile swim and a 24 mile bike. No run. My right knee is the devil, so swimming and cycling are much more fun for me. It was a perfect combo- I was able to compete and get a great workout without collapsing for the rest of the day. The swim was in the Tennessee River, upstream for about 1/3 of a mile from the dock at Calhoun’s, then downstream the rest of the way. Water temp was 68- a little chilly when you jumped in but not bad at all as long as you had a westuit.
The bike was super hilly- rollers and a few long climbs. Living in the Midwest, I have to seek out hills to ride. The lush, green, winding Knoxville back roads were very different from the pancake-flat Missouri and Illinois trails with ancient, time and iceberg-worn Ozark “hills” I’m used to, so the change was challenging and welcome.
Other than a girl in front of me almost getting hit by a car going uphill around a bend (yeesh) and seeing a pack of guys drafting (lame-o, blame-o), the ride was perfect. Breathtaking, well-supported, and realllly fun.
My sisters came out early in the morning to support me in my weird hobby (amazing. they’re amazing) and brought the kiddos. I even lucked out and took home some swag. And that was the race! Thanks, Rev3, for another great event and thank you, sisters, for being so very loving and wonderful and encouraging.
love those sissies
For anyone traveling to Knoxville for the Rev3 in the future, I highly recommend Tomato Head for an awesome pre-race meal. Tomato Head serves up pizza for every taste, from vegan to chicken with pesto and walnuts to Margherita. By the slice, too, all crazy kinds. It’s incredibly family-friendly and has a top-notch local beer list, to boot.
the kiddos cracking wise at Tomato Head
Post-race included a trip to another Knoxville fave, Stir-Fry, for pad Thai and sushi and hot and sour soup (why else would I race?! for the food, the FOOD!!). But the kicker was breakfast the next day…. Tupelo Honey Cafe.
come on in, y’all
Tupelo Honey Cafe was my last hurrah before hitting the road back to MO. Diana and I grabbed an early breakfast there on a green, rainy morning. The restaurant has several locations, all in the South; Knoxville’s is on Market Square, the heart of downtown.The atmosphere was great- the place is basically a pinner’s dream come true- open kitchens, blue glass bottle chandelier, or hanging reclaimed window dividers, anyone?
We each ordered the quiche-like “breakfast pie,” she the vegetarian, with asparagus and herbs, and I the omnivore, with ham, red peppers, and Brie. Each pie was topped with an edible flower. Come ON with the cuteness, woudja? Geez, Tupelo Honey Cafe! It’s like you’re reading my mind!
The crusts on the pies were perfectly buttery and flaky. Diana ordered sliced tomatoes on the side (the South is getting to her) and I had luscious, tart, creamy goat cheese grits. Say whaaa? Total elevation of goat cheese. And of grits. Continuing the elevated dairy trend, we also ordered whipped peach butter- butter whipped with chunks of fresh peaches (you probably guessed that, eh?). The peach butter melted over the complimentary biscuits we drizzled with house-branded honey. Basically, I was carbed and caloried-up for another race when I hit the road.
…as sweet as Tupelo honey/just like honey from the bee..
If you have the chance to stop by Tupelo Honey Cafe, and you like happiness and good things, do. There’s just something about well-made Southern food that warms the spirit (even if the restaurant has more than one location). Your spirit will be warmed. Mine was- all over Knoxville, in fact. Another amazing trip for the [cook]books.
This vibrant, fragrant dish makes me happy. Its colors and flavors of make me think of lovely Nepal and of colorful Northern India, which I imagine to be one of the most lively places in the world. The tantalizing smell of onion, ginger, and garlic cooking in coconut oil will make your kitchen feel like this:
Holi festival! photo: National Geographic
Korma is derived from the Urdu word ḳormā, or “braise.” Even though there’s no meat in this dish, you braise the sweet potatoes by cooking them with curry powder, onion, and a bit of tomato sauce before simmering them in coconut milk with kale and white beans. You can serve this korma with rice if you like or serve as a side dish. I found that it really holds up on it’s own; I dolloped mine with some plain Greek yogurt for a hearty meal. स्वादिष्ट (delicious)!
In a large stockpot, heat coconut oil over medium. Add the onion and saute until it’s translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute another minute.
Add the sweet potatoes, curry powder, and tomato sauce. NOTE: if you don’t like curry powder (and many people don’t), omit it for Pete’s sake. Add paprika or brown sugar and pepper or red curry paste, or nothing or anything you like in its place. But if you do like curry powder, add it now. Continue to cook the sweet potatoes over medium for about ten minutes, until they begin to soften a bit.
Add the coconut milk, kale, and white beans. Bring the korma to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes.
look at that nutritious jumble!
That’s all! Uncover and serve, you wholesome and adventurous veggie-lover, you. Top with yogurt or diced cucumbers. Enjoy!
Dave and I were fortunate enough to visit the most beautiful place in the world recently: the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John. The island is 2/3 national park (whaaa!), has beaches varying from pristine white sand with aquamarine water to grassy turtle habitat to all smooth, gray rock, it’s dotted with Dutch and Danish sugar mill ruins, and it’s crisscrossed with challenging and well-maintained hiking trails. The fact that the majority of the island is a park keeps the riff raff out (airports, huge all-inclusive resorts, restaurant chains, shopping malls) and that’s helped the wildlife, flora, coral, and sea life stay healthy and breathtaking. It’s pretty much the real-life Neverland. I know this because the people of St. John each have a glinting glimmer of Lost Boy in their eyes.
Neverland, I tell ya
We fell in love the moment we arrived and swam, hiked, and ran over as much of the island as we could during our stay. We snorkeled daily, swimming with hawksbill turtles, myriad tropical fish by the school full, barracuda, rays, and even a large eagle ray. Rarely have I come back from a vacation in better shape than I left, but that was definitely the case coming home from St. John. And while the scrubby Missouri hills of home can’t compare to the vertical, emerald green volcanic mountains of STJ, I am determined to forge a hiking habit this summer, ticks be damned. Each day after hiking and swimming, we’d head to better-than-they-have-to-be food and drink spots like the Fatty Crab (order the Recession Special), Sam & Jack’s, Vie’s Snack Shack for conch fritters, Skinny Legs for burgers, live music, and shots with locals, and Asolare (go straight to the bar to meet Kim, master mixologist). I’m telling you, if you’re an outdoorsy nature lover who also enjoys outstanding and creative food, people, and drink, St. John may very well be the island for you. It certainly stole our hearts.
Outside of physical exertion and rum-swilling good times, a highlight of our trip was an incredibly romantic dinner Dave booked with Ted’s Supper Club, a well-known private chef service on the island. We were agog watching Ted cook. A-freaking-GOG. The skilled and professional Chef Ted whipped up an unforgettable meal of salad, dumplings, scallops, fish, veggies, lava cake, and a deep-dish focaccia bread with pesto and tomatoes cooked in cast iron that held us over for days. The focaccia really made an impression on us and I vowed to make it when we got home. That was in January; we have refined our humble approximation over three tries since. I present to you: Lauren and Dave’s deep-dish St. Louis focaccia by way of Chef Ted of St. John. Hearty. Delicious. Bring a hunk on a hike.
Parmesan cheese, optional (recipe is vegan without)
Note: I let this bread rise three times, so go into this knowing that it’s is a time-consuming recipe, even with the speed-rise method I recommend. Mostly hands-off time, but still. In a large mixing bowl, blend the flour, salt, Italian seasoning, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and yeast. Add 1 cup of warm water and stir until combined. Add the remaining cup water, 1 tablespoon pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes. Stir the rest of this in well until the mixture resembles a shaggy ball. This takes a bit of manhandling and you could take care of this step in a Kitchenaid with the hook attachment if you’d like.
I was lazy and didn’t take a picture of this step. Shame, shame! Enjoy this map of Neverland instead (available on etsy).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter or prep board and knead for about five minutes, until the dough is smooth and uniform. You may want to have your hunky husband take care of this step as you watch him admiringly from the other side of the kitchen, what with his being all rustic and manly and kneading the dough and all. Shape the dough into a ball. You’ll be very happy with how pretty it looks at this point. I’m happy for you, too. Ted would keep a small chunk of dough from his most recent focaccia as a starter, which we have begun to do as well. This helps the dough develop a yeasty, sourdough flavor, so tear off a hunk and refrigerate for your next batch if you plan to do the same. In a large, clean, glass mixing bowl, add 1 tbsp of the olive oil and place your dough in the bowl, turning to cover with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set aside.
Now, for the rising process: I use a rapid-rise method for this bread, and it works wonderfully. Place a measuring cup (I use the same glass measuring cup I measured the water with) and microwave for about a minute thirty, until hot. Leave the cup in the microwave, and place your covered dough bowl in next to it. Close the microwave and let the dough rise until doubled, about 20-30 minutes. Keep an eye on this- take a picture on your phone for reference if you want to compare size. After the dough has risen, punch it down with the backs of your hands until the built-up gas has been released, then fold over itself, coating with the oil in the bowl, and cover again with the plastic wrap (I had to reach out to an expert baker friend from high school on this step via Facebook; I ❤ social networking). Let the dough rise a second time, punch down a second time, and let the dough rise a third and final time. Whew. This will take an hour to an hour and a half total. You will be handsomely rewarded for your patience, I promise.
Now! Preheat your oven to 425. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a cast iron pan, coating the bottom and sides. Remove the dough bowl from the microwave, punching down the dough a final time. Spread the dough out evenly in the pan with your fingers. Don’t you feel homey and capable? You should. Poke a few holes in the top of the dough, spread the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon pesto, and sprinkle with Parmesan, if you’d like.
Bake for 25 minutes on the middle rack of your oven, turning once. THIS STUFF IS DELICIOUS. We cut it into squares because we eat too much at a time otherwise but slices work, too. Top with a mix of hearty vegetables, or serve with marinara, meat sauce, or soup. Or just eat it plain and dream of the islands as you enjoy your lovely creation by the fistful. Così buono!
The second best thing to cooking meals from scratch is doctoring ready-to-go options, don’t you think? I think this is called “faking it” in the real world, but hey- you do what you gotta do when you’re low on time and need to eat. This week, I fell in love with a frozen meal that will become a staple in our household: Trader Joe’s Channa Masala. It’s a Punjabi Indian chickpea dish with a tomato base and coriander, cilantro, mango powder, onion, and garlic. It’s incredibly, incredibly aromatic, it’s low calorie, and vegan. And cooks in four minutes.
Trader Joe’s was giving out samples the last time I was there, and I followed the intoxicating aroma across the store like a cartoon character floating by its nose. I grabbed two out of the freezer before I had swallowed my first bite. It’s that good. And $2.99. Cheap and delicious- two of my favorite adjectives!
Lauren goes to Trader Joe’s
It’s snowing in St. Louis today, and Dave ventured out to the International grocery store before the weather got too bad. He came back with a surprise- freshly made Afghan bread. Two large circles of light, bubbly, pita-like bread, meant to be torn in chunks and used to scoop up saucy foods… Saucy foods like channa masala. Aaaand the post comes full circle. Here’s how we prepared today’s channa masala and Afghan bread for lunch:
CHANNA MASALA WITH CHICKEN & PEAS
2 packages Trader Joe’s Channa Masala
1 cup frozen peas
2 chicken breasts, optional- I listed this as vegan because the chicken can be left out
Afghan bread, pitas, or naan, or brown rice for gf (Trader Joe’s sells frozen naan next to the channa masala, but if you have a local international grocery store, you’ll be able to find an interesting middle eastern, Indian, or African bread there.)
THIS IS SO EASY. Boil two chicken breasts in salted water for about ten minutes or until cooked and chop, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Heat the channa masala trays one at a time, for three minutes each. Add the chopped chicken back into the saucepan you cooked it in (water drained, of course), add the contents of both channa masala trays.
Add the reserved cooking water and the frozen peas. Cook for about five minutes, uncovered, until the mixture is well combined and the peas are hot. Serve with Afghan bread and enjoy the fun and sensual experience of eating with your hands. We enjoyed the scooping and the messiness- it seems natural! What are some of your favorite ready-made foods to doctor up??
The weekend of February 15th, I met Dave in D.C. for a lovely Valentine’s getaway. We stayed at the Willard the first night- which was FABULOUS and made me feel very important and as if I needed an official seal or something- and stayed with my lovely aunt & uncle in Annandale the rest of the trip. We walked all over the place, we saw art, we posed with sculptures, we ate tacos, we drank Yuengling, we ran and walked in Maryland and saw falls and boat locks, and there were memorable oysters at the Old Ebbitt Grill and an inspiring dish of ensaladilla Rusa at Jaleo.
What is ensaladilla Rusa, lady? you may ask, and why should I care about Jaleo? Well. You’ll be happy to know that ensaladilla Rusa is an iconic Spanish tapa, basically a simply dressed potato salad with tuna and peas. I’d read about it before, but we tried it for the first time at the José Andrés-owned Jaleo, a busy tapas spot on 7th Street in Penn Quarter. Jaleo is full of tourists (like us) but the food is fast and tasty. I am always fine with having anything to do with José Andrés, who I admire very much, and Jaleo is an accessible way to try one of his restaurants with little-to-no planning required. Find his bio here– just know that he’s a legendary Spanish chef and a visionary. I won’t drag my chef groupie-ism out any longer than I need to… but check him out.
the spectacular Willard
So! Those things being said, I recreated the tapa at home and it made quite the bright and tasty spring dinner. I’m looking forward to having it as a bright and tasty spring lunch tomorrow.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Carefully place the potatoes into the water, and boil for ten minutes (don’t drain yet- keep reading). While the potatoes are boiling, I’ll mention a fool-proof way to hard-boil eggs: place eggs in a pot and cover with an inch of cold water. Bring to a boil, then immediately cover and remove from heat. Let sit, covered, for 15 minutes, then remove to a bowl of ice water for five more. Perfect, and no green rings on the yolks!
Okay, back to the kitchen. Heat the peas for a minute in your microwave and drain; place in a large mixing bowl. Chop and add the parsley. Drain the tuna, drizzle it with the olive oil, and let sit. If the ten minutes are up on your potatoes, add the shredded carrots to the boiling water and cook them both for five minutes more, and drain.
Let the potatoes cool to room temperature, which should take t 10-15 minutes. While you wait, chop the eggs into small dice. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle and not crumbling when you cut them, cut them into 1/2 inch dice. Carefully stir the peas, parsley, and potatoes together; then carefully stir in the eggs. Stir in the 3/4 cup mayo, and then fold in the tuna. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. This will be a room-temperature dish. Serve with cracked black pepper and enjoy!
Quick shout-out to one of my other main men, John Singer Sargent, and the first Jaleo to capture my heart in the capital, long ago.
I’ve clearly been on a Dominican cuisine kick lately. I think the cold weather is making me crave comfort food, and Dominican food is a great source of comfort to me. Physically being in the DR would also be a source of comfort, preferably on a beach with assorted rum cocktails in hand, but this dish isn’t a bad substitute (and it’s, you know, cheaper).
Pollo guisado is a savory stewed chicken dish that’s served over rice. As I mentioned in my first post on the cuisine of the Dominican Republic, it’s not spicy. Dominican food instead relies on aromatics like garlic, onions, mild peppers like bell peppers, cilantro, vinegar, spices like oregano, and seasonings like lime and lemon for its healthy bursts of flavor. So don’t be scurred to try it; it’s quite palatable and approachable. Also, considering the colonial history of the Dominican Republic, its food has European, African, and Taíno Indian influences, so it’s basically a trip around the world on a plate and a party in your mouth. Plantains are a staple crop, as are rice and beans. And explaining this is making me hungry, so let’s get to it. I really think you’ll love this hearty, mouth-watering dish.
6 servings white or brown rice, prepared according to package directions
4-6 lbs chicken pieces, skin removed. I recommend legs and thighs for this dish.
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, red or green, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1 6-oz container Goya Recaito cilantro cooking base, available at large grocery stores and international grocery stores
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp garlic powder
1-2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 small can tomato sauce
4 cups chicken broth
1/4-1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup green olives, drained and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
Grab a large bowl. Cut the lime in half and rub the skinned chicken with the lime, then sprinkle with the tablespoon salt. Juice the lime and pour the juice over the chicken pieces; toss to coat and let marinate for 30 minutes. You can toss this a few times while it marinates, if you’re OCD and are deeply satisfied by evenly coated chicken, like you’re ol’ pal Lauren is. “Washing” poultry with citrus juice is a Caribbean culinary mainstay; I imagine the origins have something to do with the anti microbial properties of the juice keeping the poultry fresh, but here we’re just doing it to be tasty.
In the meantime, slice and dice your veggies (onion, pepper, cilantro, potatoes, carrots) and cook your rice. When the chicken’s ready to go, rinse the pieces with cold water and pat dry. Put on a large dish- you’ll use it again in a minute. In a large dutch oven, heat the tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Lightly brown the chicken pieces on both sides in batches, 4-5 at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Remove the chicken to the plate you so wisely left nearby.
When the chicken has been browned, add the onion, green pepper, and cilantro to the pot and saute for a few minutes- you may need to add oil or lower the heat- just make sure there’s no sticking. Add the garlic powder, oregano, pepper, and recaito; cook 2-3 minutes more, stirring. Add the olives and tomato sauce, and cook for 2 more minutes.
Stir in the chicken broth and vinegar, and add the chicken back to the pot along with the potatoes and carrots. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 40 minutes. Remove the lid and let simmer, lidless, filling up your home with the enticing promise of really good food, for another 20 minutes. That’s it! Let cool 5-10 minutes on a cool burner, and serve over rice (I opted for brown, and it was delicious). Pass hot sauce around for those who like a kick. Buen provecho!