Mole in Chicago and Hummus at Home

Late winter/early spring. For the last four years this is the time of year I have always dreaded. No, not because the snow is gone and the flowers and baby animals are emerging. That part is quite wonderful. I dread it because for these few months I will be planning, schmoozing, and traveling non-stop for auditions for ballet companies. Companies hold auditions now to look for dancers that they wish to hire for next season. In the ballet world, employment revolves around the performance season which runs from fall to spring, not unlike a school year. For the end of this season I will be an apprentice with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (YAY!) but nothing is guaranteed that I will have that job again next season. Hence why I am now auditioning like crazy. Now that I have broken into the professional realm of the ballet world hopefully it won’t be as hard for me to stay there as it is to get in. Only time will tell…

This past weekend I made a quick 24 hour trip to Chicago for an audition on Saturday afternoon. After the audition I met up with my good friends from high school that now attend Northwestern University. I was crashing at their apartment for the night. Connections are key at this time of year too. Not only will it help you get you more quickly noticed at an audition, but if you know a friend in a city you are traveling to, staying with them considerably cuts down on travel costs. Thanks goodness for friendly friends! Anyway, After the audition we went into downtown Chicago, bought a few things at a record store and had a delicious meal at a Mexican restaurant: Buena Vista.

It was a teeny tiny little restaurant. The dining area was incredibly small, the legal maximum occupancy was only 19 people to just give you an idea. The kitchen was almost the same size as the restaurant. To get to the restroom, I had to walk through the kitchen. I can’t say that is highly comforting as a diner (someone could misbehave on their way back to pee) but at the same time it was pretty fun to see a behind the scene look at this small family run restaurant. When we walked in the owner’s family (I’m assuming) was sitting at a table near the kitchen finishing up their meals and speaking rapidly in Spanish. If I owned this place or knew the owner I’d be eating here every night too. The food was simple yet delicious. right after we sat down we were brought two homemade salsas, one regular and one green, and a bowl of homemade chips. We then ordered some guacamole to munch on too as we picked our entrees. I decided to go with the enchiladas de mole. Steaming, they came out sandwiched between some refried beans and seasoned rice. Every individual part of that meal was delicious. The enchiladas were filled with incredibly tender chicken. There was not much more to the meal than what met the eye but there didn’t need to be. It was so deliciously simple and comforting that I was for the moment distracted by how much my mouth was burning from the spice.

I finished off my time in Chicago with some quality college entertainment (you know) and then left to fly home the next morning. Once I returned home it was time to prepare for the Superbowl! I landed around 3:30 so there wasn’t much time for me to cook before heading to a friend’s apartment to watch the game but I of course wanted to contribute something. A few days before I was browsing through my Mark Bittman cookbook “The Food That Matters Cookbook” and found a recipe for hummus. In the cookbook it takes the hummus one step further and instructs you on how to serve it hot. However since I was to be transporting my batch I just left it room temperature. I have been wanting to make my own hummus for years but I didn’t have a food processor or a blender. Now that I am back at home, the kitchen supplies at my disposal have been opening the doors to my culinary adventures left and right.

With only a handful of ingredients and requiring only a total of 10 minutes to make this was one of the easiest and most rewarding things I have made in a while. By the time the game was over last night ALL of my hummus was gone. (There were only 4 of us there eating it.) I’m not sure I will ever go back to store-bought hummus. Here is the recipe, with a few adaptations I made. Give it a try!

Hummus

3 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained

1/2 cup water

1 or 2 garlic cloves

1/4 cup olive oil, or to taste

1/4 cup tahini, or to taste

salt and black pepper

3 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste

chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Put the chickpeas, water, garlic, olive oil, and tahini in a blender or food processor. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Puree for a minute or two until the mixture is very smooth. Add the lemon juice and blend again until it is incorporated. At this point you can adjust it to your liking by adding more of any ingredient to change the taste, consistency, or both. I just kept taking little tastes and adding more of this and that until it tasted just the way I like it. In the cookbook, Mark Bittman gives recommendations of other ingredients to add like roasted red peppers and spices to change up the flavor of the hummus. Being the first time I made it I just stuck with the original flavor. Next time I think I’ll add something to kick it up a notch. Maybe some roasted garlic. Yum. I took it to my friend’s apartment with some pita and chopped veggies and like I said, it was all gone by the time I left. Hope it’s as successful for you if you decide to give it a try!

 

 

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A Tasty Collision of Christmas and Hanukkah

Yesterday was Christmas but it feels like it was all a dream. For the third year in a row I was unable to spend Christmas with my family. Thankfully though, I had friends in the same situation (because we are all slaves to the Nutcracker) that I spent the holiday with. I also got to play hostess and cook for everyone. That was especially rewarding for two reasons: one, I love to cook and it is hard to cook elaborate multi-course meals for just one person on my busy schedule, and two, being busy in the kitchen helped keep my mind off the fact that I was yet again not with family.

Ironically, I got all my recipes from my new cookbook “The Food Matters” Cookbook by Mark Bittman. I got it as a Hanukkah present just a few nights earlier. Yes, we celebrate both holidays in my household. I am superbly happy with my new cookbook. Mark Bittman is a professional food writer for The New York Times and has a weekly column in the paper titled “The Minimalist”. He also has authored How To Cook Everything and Food Matters. Having read a few of his articles and seen many of his recipes in the Times I have taken an interest in his approach to cooking. Now I can really take the ground running. He emphasizes using fresh  ingredients, mostly vegetables and whole grains with just a hint of animal products here and there. Seeing as this is how I prefer to eat, I won’t be making any drastic changes to my diet. Just welcoming more favorite dishes.

I picked recipes for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve it was just me and my roommate Harrison having a cozy night in so I only made one dish, a Mushroom and Pasta Frittata. Along with it we had brie, oven roasted sweet potatoes, and a very tasty pear and cranberry crumble that Harrison made. The frittata was very simple to make. I only used one pan, aside from the pot I used to cook the noodles, and from start to finish it took only about an hour. I was a little interested as to how the addition of the pasta would affect the dish but it turned out rather spectacularly. The pasta and mushrooms were the stars of the dish and the egg was merely there to bind it all together. The sage was an excellent bonus too. It made the dish taste like Christmas!

salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

about 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, sliced

black pepper

8 oz any long pasta, uncooked, preferably whole wheat (which I happened to have in the cabinet), or 4 oz (2 cups) cooked pasta

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced (I ended up just using half the onion)

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 eggs (I wound up using 4 or 5 because 2 just seemed to disappear and I wanted to be able to taste the egg)

2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried

Start off by boiling a pot of salted water to cook the pasta if it is not cooked already. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and stir. You can cover the pan if you have a lid and turn the heat down to medium-low to let the mushrooms cook and release some liquid. About 5 or 10 minutes. If you don’t have a lid like me it will work just fine (almost exactly the same) to leave it uncovered. Remove the lid if you put one on and let the juices bubble for a few minutes until they boil off. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook it all until the mushrooms are dry, shrunken, and begin to crisp. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the pasta. Beat the eggs with the sage and pour it over the mixture. Let it sit undisturbed for about 10 minutes until the eggs are just barely set. If you are using a pan that is oven safe you can slide it in to a 350 degree oven for a few minutes. I just left mine on the stove. It can be served hot or at room temperature.

Christmas morning I indulged on some scones that Harrison baked then slobbed around for the afternoon until it was time to start making dinner. On the menu: Mini Potato-Parmesan Rostis and Sesame-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Chicken. Boy do I love me some Brussels sprouts! The Rostis, as Harrison pointed out, were a nice little homage to Hanukkah because they were very similar to latkes, these were baked though instead of fried. They would be equally appropriate as an appetizer or as a side dish depending on their size. The cookbook doesn’t recommend this but coming from years of latke eating experience they would taste great with a little sour cream or applesauce if you want to pump up their flavor a little bit. They weren’t bland on their own but help could also be appreciated.

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan or muffin tin

1 1/2 lbs waxy potatoes (like new or red potatoes), peeled if you desire, I left mine unpeeled for added texture

1 onion (I used half red and half white because they were already hanging out that way in my fridge)

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon whole wheat flour (I just used all-purpose flour because I didn’t have whole wheat)

salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 12-cup nonstick muffin tin or a large baking sheet with some oil. Grate the potatoes and onion then squeeze them dry with paper towels. Put them in a large bowl and add the herb, Parmesan, and 1/4 cup of oil. Sprinkle in salt and pepper and mix until well combined. Evenly distribute the mixture into the muffin cups then press down firmly. If you are using a baking sheet, press the mixture into 12 evenly sized mounds. Bake for about 30 minutes until they are crisp and golden. Let sit for about 10 minutes before removing them from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I got those in the oven and out of the way before starting on the Brussels sprouts and chicken dish. In my preparatory shopping trip I overlooked the sesame oil and didn’t realize until everything was closed for the holidays so sadly that didn’t make its way into my dish. It was still successful with vegetable oil instead but the sesame oil certainly would’ve helped enhance the sesame flavor and made the dish richer. Regardless, it was quite delicious. I served it with a little bit of soy sauce and some lemon wedges. You can also cook up some rice or soba noodles to serve under it but we had the potato rostis (and an overwhelming number of scrumptious desserts) so I decided it wasn’t necessary. This dish is also assemble in its entirety with the use of just one pan. Gosh I love that. It makes clean-up a breeze.

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into small chunks

2 tablespoons minced ginger

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 pound Brussels sprouts (I added a few extra sprouts because I just love them so much)

1/2 cup stock, white wine, or water, or more as needed

salt and black pepper

soy sauce, for serving

lemon wedges, for serving

Begin by toasting the sesame seeds in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the pan often until they begin to brown but don’t burn. It should take 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the seeds from the skillet and set aside. Add the vegetable oil to the skillet and turn up the heat to medium-high. When it’s hot add the chicken and cook until it browns a bit on the outside, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the ginger and cook just a minute or so until it becomes soft and fragrant. Remove the chicken and ginger from the pan and set aside. Without wiping the pan, add the sesame oil, Brussels sprouts, 1/2 cup stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Let it cook until the sprouts and just tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Check it every so often and add more liquid if needed. Uncover and return the chicken and ginger to the pan. Raise the heat so the liquid bubbles off and the chicken and sprouts become glazed and eventually browned. Try not to stir too often and just let it sit there happily and get all brown and delicious. Once it’s gorgeous, give it a quick stir and add the sesame seeds that you toasted earlier. Serve hot or at room temperature with the soy sauce and lemon wedges.

The evening was a huge success. My food was enjoyed, Harrison made a delicious apple tart, and we had 2 guests who brought cookies, cheese, and wine. Boy did we dine. I feel like this is just the mild start to my future of hosting dinner parties.