Honeymoon!

I’m so excited… Eric and I booked our tickets for the honeymoon this weekend! We’ll be gone for a whole month, first stopping in NYC for a few days, then Seoul, and then finally making our way to Bangkok, which will serve as a base for the rest of the trip. We hope to hit up quite a few spots – Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay, and the north of Vietnam), Cambodia (mostly Angkor Wat, unless you have other suggestions..), Thailand (of course, but not sure what we’ll be doing there yet), Malaysian Borneo (this is a recent addition to the trip – not sure we can miss the orangutans!), and then finally, Bali.

We had to add some island time in there. This is, after all, our honeymoon, and while we’re not much for tradition, we still believe in good old fashioned island time for the honeymoon. And yeah, ok, we’ll get island time is Borneo and possibly Thailand, but Bali… Bali… while we’re in the region, I just didn’t feel we could pass it up. And yeah, I’ll admit it, Eat Pray Love had just a little bit to do with that decision.

So, if you’re reading this and if you’ve been to Southeast Asia, let me know what to do!

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Sauteed Shrimp with Mojo de Ajo

For Christmas, my husband and I gave my sister and brother-in-law a reservation to Rick Bayless’s Topolobampo – a reservation we had to make four months in advance. With it, we offered up our stellar babysitting services for the kiddos and told them to go ahead – have a good time. I won’t name names or go into details, but let’s just say a few mojitos and wine pairings later, they did, in fact, have a good time.

To thank us, they gave me an autographed Rick Bayless cookbook! One recipe I picked out early on was this shrimp with mojo de ajo, mostly because it seemed really simple and incredibly indulgent. Then, I recently saw the same recipe posted by this blogger who varied the recipe just slightly – and it seemed even easier! I promptly went to the market that weekend to buy five heads of garlic.

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Alf was, of course, immediately interested.
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The great thing about this recipe is that it can be used with anything. The shrimp tasted amazing, but I also tossed the oil with some pasta and veggies and drizzled it over fresh tomatoes.

Picnik collage

I paired the shrimp with some simply-cooked wheat berries – they cook much like rice, only it took a little longer. I just set my rice cooker to cook during the day while I was at work and when I came home, perfect wheat berries!

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Sauteed Shrimp with Mojo de Ajo

adapted from Mexico-One Plate at a Time

5 large heads garlic
3 cups fruity olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
juice of two limes
3-4 chipotles in adobo (from a can), sliced finely

~1 pound fresh, deveined shrimp

Peel and crush all the garlic – it doesn’t have to be minced, but it helps if it’s all smashed to let out the garlicky juices. Heat the oven to 325 degrees and arrange the smashed garlic in the bottom of a glass pan. Pour the oil and salt over the garlic, then bake for approximately 45 minutes. When the garlic is roasted and soft, pull it out and toss in the lime juice and slivered chipotles.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes.

Toss the oil with fresh shrimp and cook for a few minutes, until the shrimp is no longer translucent. Store the rest of the oil (and there will be a lot left!) in a glass jar or container.

Eggplant Caviar

Is it just me, or do certain recipes or ideas circle the blogosphere (NOT Blagosphere tehehe) every couple months? For a while it was kale chips, then I saw a billion recipes for eggs poached in tomato sauce (which I’m still trying to find the time to make), and lately, I’ve seen quite a few recipes for Eggplant Caviar.

Say what?

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Really, this is just a fancy name for an eggplant dip that is not baba ghanoush (though really, it’s not that much different). It’s great because roasting the eggplant over a flame imparts this real smoky flavor into the dish. I personally love eggplant, but I think this might be a good recipe for those of you who are skeptical about this giant purple vegetable. It works with any variety of eggplant, so scoop up whichever one looks the coolest at the market.

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Eggplant Caviar

3-4 medium size eggplants, any variety works
juice of one lemon
lemon zest from said lemon
handful of Italian parsley
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
handful of fresh tarragon leaves
salt and pepper

Cut the eggplant into manageable slices – about an inch thick. Over a grill or gas flame, char the eggplant slices until slightly blackened. (If you don’t have a grill or gas stovetop, just pop them in the oven.) Place the charred eggplant slices on an oiled baking sheet and bake at 425 for ~25 minutes or until very soft. Let cool, then remove the charred skins like you would on peppers or tomatoes. Place the soft innards in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients and pulse until you get a smooth consistency. If you want it to actually look like caviar, let the mixture remain a little chunky so that the seeds remain in tact. Serve with crusty bread and a nice soft goat cheese.

Elote, aka Mexican Corn on the Cob

There is a very sweet woman who sells tamales out of a cooler close to my apartment. She has a food cart, despite the crazy Chicago food cart rules (the food cannot be cooked in the cart), and the tamales are huge. I often pick up a few for dinner on my way home from work. Last time I was there, someone else ordered elote – an offering I didn’t know she served. It looked delicious, so when I saw sweet corn at the farmer’s market this past Sunday, I knew I would be making this Mexican specialty.

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I have never made elote before, and I didn’t even bother to look up a recipe. I just decided to “wing it” based on what I saw my tamale lady throwing together. I’m not sure how traditional this is, but Eric certainly gobbled it right up. And it’s so simple and easy. I did not have any parsley or cilantro on hand, but I imagine this would be even better with some fresh herbs mixed in. Instead, I topped it with some cilantro pesto I made recently – that satisfied my need for fresh herbiness (yes, herbiness). I also decided to cut the corn off the cob since I don’t particularly enjoy eating corn on the cob, but you can certainly prepare this on the cob as well.

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Elotes, aka Mexican Sweet Corn

inspired by the tamale lady, who I’ve since learned calls her stand Elotes. Genius.

3 cobs fresh sweet corn
1/4 cup cotija cheese, or other fresh Mexican cheese
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (if I had it, I would have preferred to use a Mexican crema, sour cream, crème fraiche, or even greek yogurt)
1 teaspoon butter
juice of one lime
salt and pepper

Boil corn in a pot of salted water for a few minutes, until tender. Using a sharp chef’s knife, scrape the corn kernels from the cob. In a mixing bowl, combine with the rest of ingredients. For variation, try adding parsley, cilantro, or another fresh herb.

Heirloom Caprese Salad

I love Sundays. Sunday mornings, that is. After 4pm, I usually start feeling those hints of depression… that gloomy feeling knowing that Monday morning – work – is coming closer and closer by the minute.

Sunday morning, on the other hand, is so wonderful. I can’t describe why, but it feels completely different than Saturday mornings. Perhaps this weekend, Sunday was different because I didn’t have that pounding wine headache from Friday night’s dinner extravaganza (which, this past weekend, included a secret underground dinner event in an uber trendy loft in the South Loop). Perhaps it was the long run that felt so refreshing. Perhaps it was the sun shining and crowds of people gathered at the lakefront to see Chicago’s Annual Air and Water Show.

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Whatever the case, I made my way to our quaint little market in Wicker Park and picked up a slew of goodies that have provided enough material to post on this blog for a week! Fresh sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, cranberry beans (yes!), three different kinds of eggplant, basil, and garlic… the few blocks home felt like a mile with such heavy bags hanging off my arms.

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If you know me, you know I love spring produce like asparagus, ramps, and garlic scapes. Even more so than spring, however, I look forward to tomato season… also known as summer. Tomatoes are one of those foods that you must eat in season. And, more and more, I believe heirloom tomatoes are the only way to go. Forget those hybrid, mealy, flavorless varieties you find in the grocery store. You haven’t had a tomato until you’ve had an heirloom tomato.

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Heirloom Caprese Salad

This recipe was very much inspired – er, practically stolen – from Love and Olive Oil.

2 heirloom tomatoes, different varieties
1 ball fresh mozzarella
~10 fresh basil leaves, or more if preferred

1/4 cup good olive oil
3 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
1/2 clove raw garlic
1 small squirt of mustard
1 small squirt/drizzle of agave nectar or honey
salt and pepper

Slice the tomatoes into rounds and cut the mozzarella into rounds approximately the same thickness. Layer tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. To make the vinaigrette, combine olive oil, vinegar, leftover basil leaves, salt and pepper, garlic, mustard, and agave nectar in a food processor. Pulse until oil is emulsified. Drizzle over salad.

You’ll likely have some dressing leftover; enjoy it on an arugula salad or any other greens.

Potato Salad

Whew, it’s been a while. I’ve been busy, you know, getting married!

Wedding Photo

What a cool, fun day we had. I’m so sad, actually, that’s it’s over. Everyone told me I’d feel relief. Really I just feel this huge sense of disappointment that we don’t get to party anymore! I mean, look at that photo – what cool friends we have! What a beautiful location we had!

Alas, back to work and cooking now. I actually made this recipe for my family a few weeks ago and everyone really enjoyed it. Potato salads seem to epitomize summer, but I’ve never understood the thick mayonnaise dressing that can’t sit out in the sun and fills your belly to the point of disgust. A few things make this potato salad stand out – a vinegar and oil dressing, cilantro, and beans. Together, they elevate the dish and make it taste, in my opinion, a lot more of summer.

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Potato Salad

1 pound potatoes
1/2 pound green beans
1/2 pound turkey bacon (I found a pepper turkey bacon)
1/2 cup cilantro
4 shallots
2 jalapenos
1 clove garlic
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
red wine vinegar, to taste, to finish the dressing

Start by getting the potatoes in salted, boiling water. Cook them until they’re just barely soft all the way through. In the last couple minutes, toss the beans in and blanch them. When finished, put them in an ice/water bath to stop the cooking and keep the beans very green.

Meanwhile, brown the bacon in a separate pan. Keep the brown bits and rendered fat in the pan.

Mince the garlic, shallots, and jalapeno. Keep the seeds and ribs if you like it very spicy, otherwise remove. Toss them all in the rendered fat for a quick saute. You just want to barely cook these – the garlic should still be pungent, the jalapeno still fresh and spicy, and the shallots still crisp. In a bowl, mix the aromatics and rendered fat with the olive oil and lemon juice. Taste, and add more red wine vinegar if needed. Season with salt and pepper.

Once cool, chop the potatoes into cubes and the beans into inch-long pieces. Combine with the dressing and top with cilantro.