Chickpea Wraps

Whenever I do a complete and total experiment for dinner I make the caveat that if it doesn’t work, we order pizza. This is my way out if dinner doesn’t work and it let’s Bob off the hook of pretending to like something I make. In the six years I’ve been in a Florida we have only needed this twice.

I wanted to do something with the leftover cilantro tahini for the purple potato salad of the other night. It was just too good to not use. So I looked around for what I could make that would still let me spend most of the day watching Wimbledon. (It began the second week today … I had to watch.) I didn’t want falafel and didn’t have parsley to make it on hand, didn’t want another kale salad and wasn’t interested ongoing to the grocery store. So I dug through cook books but didn’t come up with anything that looked like what I was after. The closest I came was a chickpea salad sandwich but I hate mayo. I mean, really hate mayo. But it did give me an idea.

20140630-201532-72932518.jpg
I cooked up a bag of chickpeas. Soaked them in cold water for seven hours then cooked for another hour and a half. This was plenty of non attention cooking to let me enjoy the tennis. And perfect timing since the last match ended about the time I needed to start putting stuff together.

20140630-201711-73031575.jpg
I cut cup a two inch chunk of cucumber, halved about eight grape tomatoes and thinly sliced a quarter of a small onion. Combine all of those, squeeze half a lime over it, add a touch of salt and pepper and mix. Let stand.

20140630-201902-73142534.jpg
I took out the magic cilantro lime dressing, grated one medium carrot and added about one to one and a half cup of the cooked chickpeas. I didn’t measure this – I just put three serving spoonfuls of chickpeas in the bowl with the carrot. To that I added a teaspoon and a half of olive oil (for consistency) and mashed with a fork.

20140630-202129-73289512.jpg
I added about a quarter cup of the cilantro tahini to this and a little salt and pepper. Mix well.
For greens, I chopped five large spinach leaves into ribbons. To assemble, take one flour tortilla, coat with a tablespoon cilantro tahini. Add spinach

20140630-202418-73458569.jpg then the chickpea mixture

20140630-202437-73477928.jpg and top with the cucumber mixture and a little more tahini.

20140630-202511-73511391.jpg
Roll together, cut the tortilla in half and there ya go. Dinner.

20140630-202550-73550786.jpg
Bob and I each ate one and a half of these, but we figured they are actually pretty food for you. No added sugar, very little fat and, except for the tortilla (which I could change out for homemade bread or keep the spinach whole) nothing processed. I was really pleased with this one. It is a definite make again.

Ingredients
For the sauce:
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 bunch cilantro (leaves only)
1/2 lime
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

For the chickpea mix:
1 carrot, grated
1 – 1.5 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini sauce (above)
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the chickpeas and carrots. Mash with a fork. Add oil and stir together. Add 1/4 cup tahini sauce and mix together, mashing the chickpeas a little more.

For the wrap:
3 flour tortillas
1/4 small red onion, sliced thin
2 inch chunk of cucumber, sliced into small sticks
8 grape tomatoes, halved
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Rest of cilantro tahini sauce
5 large spinach leaves, sliced into ribbons

I was pretty proud of this one. It isn’t falafel. It isn’t an ordinary recipe and it is easy to alter for lunches for work days. Best of all, Bob liked it and didn’t complain about eating the food his food eats. Now to figure out what I’m going to too it with tomorrow …

Happy Monday everyone!

Thai Lettuce Wraps – Vegetarian Version

A few months ago in our Hello Fresh box we had a Thai Beef Lettuce Wrap dinner. Bob and I both really liked it, but I wanted a vegetarian version. I don’t think I will ever totally give up meat, but I prefer to limit it and this, I thought, would lend itself nicely to a vegetarian dish.

20140629-082115-30075194.jpg
The ingredients are pretty simple. In place of ground beef I used a bugler and quinoa. Half a cup bugler wheat with 1 cup water and half cup quinoa with 3/4 cup water. Boil then turn to low heat for about ten to fifteen minutes. I like to turn the heat off and let them set for another five minutes, just to make sure they don’t burn, but have cooked all the way through.

While those were cooking I made ribbons from a medium sized carrot and thin slices from half an orange pepper. I took the leaves from a few stems of cilantro and mixed it all together with the juice of one lime and a little salt and pepper. I let this sit while the grains cooked and I chopped two cloves of garlic and one can (drained) of water chestnuts.

20140629-082549-30349484.jpg
Once the grains were cooked I combined them in a large pan with three tablespoons soy sauce and three tablespoons hoisin sauce over medium heat. Two of each would probably do it, but I wanted to make sure I had enough. Once those were coated, I added the garlic and chopped water chestnuts and combined everything until it was warmed through.

For plating, I took lettuce leaves and put a good amount of the filling in the middle, topped with the carrot and pepper and then added a little chopped peanut. The result …

20140629-082903-30543036.jpg
A pretty little dish that (I think) is fairly healthy. The flavors worked really well here and the grain mixture made a great substitute for ground beef. I was a little nervous about this, but Bob really liked it and didn’t miss the meat. The best part is that there is enough left over for lunch today for both of us. In the future I will probably use a lettuce other than Romain – butter lettuce would work better – or just make it as a salad since eating this as a “wrap” is very, very messy. Not first date food at all. But I like this version, maybe even a little better than the beef version and I feel better about eating it, so that is a bonus.

Ingredients
Half cup bugler wheat (plus one cup water for cooking)
Half cup quinoa (plus 3/4 cup water for cooking)
1 can water chestnuts
1/2 pepper (red, orange or yellow)
1 medium carrot
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup peanuts
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons hoisin sauce (use same amount as soy sauce)
Lettuce leaves
Juice of one lime
Salt and pepper to taste
(Optional – sesame or peanut oil for pan – 1 tablespoon)

Purple Potato & Kale Salad

Kale has a reputation as a fad food or as a bitter garnish in some restaurants, but I love the stuff. Prepared properly I don’t get the bitter taste usually associated with it (and I always taste the bitter). Not prepared properly it can be awful, but given the right preparation, accompaniments and dressing and it is a winner.

20140626-082542-30342006.jpg
I found a recipe for Purple potato and kale salad (Forks Over Knives cookbook – recipe changed slightly) that looked interesting and fairly light. As much as I loved the food in Chicago, I wanted something lighter and less dense. Lower calories is a side benefit as I am fairly certain I ate more in one meal in Chicago than I do in an entire day normally. So I hit the grocery store, found my ingredients and started. I used:

1 bunch kale, chopped
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
5 purple potatoes
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 lime
1/2 bunch cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
Oil for the pan

Wash the potatoes, slice in half (or quarter for larger potatoes) and place in a pot, cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt and put over medium heat. Once boiling, cook about 15 minutes until done.

As the potatoes cook clean and chop the kale and tomatoes.

Combine the tahini, cilantro, garlic, cayenne pepper and a pinch of salt to a food processor. Squeeze the juice of the lime into the mix (leave a little for the kale) and blend until combined.

20140626-083354-30834104.jpg

In a large pan heat a little oil (I used sesame since I was making a tahini sauce). Add the kale and tomatoes and cook, tossing frequently, until the kale is wilted. Squeeze the remaining lime juice over the kale and tomatoes, add a pinch of salt (if desired) and toss. Add the potatoes and mix together.

20140626-083631-30991717.jpg

For plating, I just divided this among two plates and topped with the tahini mixture.

20140626-083708-31028774.jpg

The results? Not as good as the magical kale salad according to Bob, but I really liked this. There is a ton of flavor in this dish and it is pretty healthy. This was another ‘I don’t miss the meat’ dishes. I think this one is going into the weeknight rotation for then the school year starts again. If I chop everything the night before, I can have this done in twenty minutes. Now to figure out if I can make my own tahini. … I feel an experiment coming!

Home Sweet Home

I love to travel. If I were thinking about careers today (instead of 25 years ago) I would look for something that lets me travel and explore the world. Food critic or writer would be amazing, but given that I can’t eat fish and hate mushrooms I probably would not make a great food critic.
20140624-162659-59219920.jpg As much as I love traveling, I love coming home even more. It was fantastic to experience Alinea and Topolobampo and be places I’ve never been and just hang out and catch up with family.

20140624-162833-59313963.jpg
But home is … well … home. My cooking will never rival the food where we ate and my house is rarely as spotless as a fresh hotel room, but that’s ok. Home is home. I have my babies here (and they were happy to see us)

20140624-163114-59474400.jpg

20140624-163115-59475152.jpg

20140624-163115-59475904.jpg I can experiment in the kitchen this month and sleep in my own bed and watch Wimbledon and just relax for a bit. Bob and I are thankfully on the same page with traveling – we love to do it, but 4 or 5 days is about all we want to be away. (I’d do longer in Europe or another overseas destination, but US travel will be long weekends for a while.) Of course if we didn’t travel I would miss sights like these:

20140624-163705-59825671.jpg

20140624-163704-59824929.jpg

20140624-163708-59828691.jpg

20140624-163706-59826544.jpg

20140624-163707-59827837.jpg

It is good to be home.

Kenosha, WI

On a whim this morning we decided to drive to Wisconsin. Why? Brad wanted beer that they only sell in Wisconsin. Bob thought this was a good idea so I looked around to see what might be fun and we decided to head out. Wisconsin isn’t far from Chicago, so it was a relatively short trip. We also found (after a number of detours) a cheese shop to stop at.
20140621-201616-72976998.jpg
Shop might be the wrong term. It is technically called a cheese castle.

20140621-201653-73013891.jpg And what would a castle be without a suit of armor? Not much of a castle, I think.

20140621-201731-73051956.jpg And this castle came with a mouse with the cheese.

I had much higher hopes for the cheese selection, it being in Wisconsin and all, but alas, not so much. It was fun and provided a lot of giggles for Emmie and I so we had fun.

20140621-202017-73217723.jpg
We also drove to Kenosha proper and saw the lighthouse, the downtown area, Lake Michigan, and a Civil War reenactment.

20140621-202200-73320324.jpg
I

20140621-202159-73319597.jpg
I was a bit surprised by this given that one does not usually associate Wisconsin with the Civil War, but ok.

The boys played on the rocks by the lake a little.

20140621-202326-73406862.jpg
We just had a nice day out (until the Florida style rain on the way home) and it was something totally different. I can also now say I have been to Wisconsin.

The Unpronounceable Restaurant … With Amazing Food

Full disclosure, I love Top Chef. I know it is highly edited, slightly fake and total tv food porn, but I love it. I’ve been hooked since season one and even generally like Top Chef Masters. Given the chef star power in Chicago we searched and searched restaurants for our limited time here, but one was a complete “we have to” for both Bob and I – Rick Bayless.

I was pretty impressed with this chef I had not really heard of during that season, especially considering the other heavy hitters there. But the moment I knew I had to eat at his restaurant was when he talked about spending 20 years perfecting a mole sauce. The respect for the culture and food of Mexico is evident in everything he says, but that discussion has stayed with me since. So we decided Topolobampo was the one we were going to do while in Chicago. Thankfully we were able to get reservations (late, but I didn’t care) and we had an amazing time.

20140621-100139-36099531.jpg
For this meal Bob and I got to create our own tasting menu since that is how Topolobampo has their menu set up. We decided to do seven courses with wine pairing (next time I’m doing five so I’m not totally stuffed) and it was perfect. I didn’t have a bite of food that I didn’t love – one that was super spicy for me, but still great – but the highlights were a deconstructed tamale that had the most amazing broth. Silky, creamy masa with a savory, deep broth.

20140621-100604-36364464.jpg

The other must have you can guess – the mole. I could not do a Rick Bayless restaurant and not do the mole since this was the dish that got me hooked. Bob and I both had this as one of our courses.

20140621-100747-36467722.jpg I did trade one of my pieces of beef for Bob’s green beans – they were amazing in the mole sauce. I cannot begin to describe the sauce – it was totally unexpected and unlike any mole I’ve ever had. It did not taste like chocolate but there is chocolate there; there are so many flavors in this dish but they do not compete with each other. It is incredible and worth the trip to Chicago. (Of course all the food here has been incredible, but there really is something special about this sauce.)

20140621-101110-36670769.jpg

20140621-101111-36671444.jpg

20140621-101112-36672127.jpg

Chicago is an amazing food city and we have not scratched the surface. Chicago itself reminds me of Philadelphia (with wider streets) but the draw here is the food more than the history. It doesn’t tempt me the way some cities do, but the food … oh the food. I think I would gain fifteen pounds if we didn’t walk everywhere and it would have been totally worth it.

Chicago

When I looked around at what we wanted to do in Chicago I came up with a few things. Most involved eating, but there are some landmarks and buildings that I really wanted to see. I know we are not going to see and do everything in one trip, so I wanted to see if there was a way to hit the highlights. We found a tour through the Chicago Architecture Foundation that fit the bill.

20140620-221946-80386453.jpg
While a Chicago, like a lot of major cities, is known for skyscrapers, it has a great history of smaller buildings too and is often on the forefront of design concepts. So we saw buildings from the 1880s and then the early 20th century to mid century modern and late 20th century. It was a great experience, but I think my two favorite stops were Robie House and the student center at IIT.

20140620-222339-80619659.jpg

20140620-222338-80618901.jpg
I never quite got Frank Lloyd Write from books and pictures. It always looked interesting, but … nothing special. But in person? To see the detail and thought that went into each part I finally understood why his designs are so special.

20140620-222649-80809890.jpg
The Student Center on the IIT campus was a really cleaver mix of firm and function. The L trains run right over the location of the building, so the enhanced the feature of the train tracks and integrated it into design. I hated the fake zebra wood on the outside, but the use of space and design elements were great. It also has the most unique bathrooms I’ve ever seen. Seriously one lady and I had a whole discussion, in the bathroom, about the bathrooms.

20140620-223140-81100315.jpg
But this trip is mostly about food and high on my list was Slurping Turtle. Japanese comfort food from an incredibly respected chef. We went with tapas and small plates for this lunch, but it was so good, we went back the next day with Brad and Emmie.

20140620-223605-81365165.jpg

20140620-223604-81364484.jpg

20140620-223603-81363786.jpg

20140620-223603-81363033.jpg
After lunch we wandered around the city more. We went through Millennial Park, down Lake Michigan to Navy Pier.

20140620-224230-81750900.jpg

20140620-224232-81752091.jpg

20140620-224230-81750074.jpg
We were exhausted by the time we meandered back to the hotel, but made sure we rested a little before heading out for fancy dinner number two. That dinner gets it’s own post tomorrow. For now I’m going to rest my feet and get some sleep.

It’s All About Service

The school year ended for me and the next morning Bob and I headed for Chicago for a little vacation. We planned this for a few months – I’ve spent less time planning our trips to Europe – so we were very excited about this. I’ve never been to Chicago and since it has some amazing restaurants I just could not wait.

The trip did not start well. I think I texted something about hating United Airlines more than a few times as we were traveling. From a mess up with seating (Bob and I were not seated together despite the email confirmation that said we were … but we could purchase an upgrade if we wanted to sit together) to the horrible boarding process to the minuscule seats (could not have my arms next to my body at the same time without hitting the poor lady next to me) that we had to wait in since there was a delay (that they knew about before we boarded) to the half hour waiting for a gate in Chicago, it was a rather bad trip. I could deal with a lot of this – the delay, bad weather and the gate issue were not United’s fault necessarily – but the way the treated customers and the very “we don’t care” attitude made everything worse. Good customer service could have made this trip ok if not good, but poor customer service made it horrible.

Adding to my stress (as this ended up being a two hour delay in total) … dinner reservations. I have read about and wondered about Alinea for a while and Bob and I decided to go for it. I read every review I could find (and I do mean every) and one review made up my mind to spend the money. “Alinea will ruin you for five star dining.” With that I had to try it.

20140620-175109-64269431.jpg
We should have had more than enough time to land, check into the hotel, relax, change and get to dinner. Instead we raced off the plane, changed in a stall in the airport bathrooms, hailed a cab and went straight to Alinea. You can probably picture me trying to get my dress and heels out of the suitcase in the stall while getting out of my jeans and top and into the dress. I did brush my hair but went without the make up to save time. We got a great cab driver and a little lucky with traffic and arrived 13 minutes late.

20140620-175755-64675693.jpg
From the moment we walked in, it was incredible. The maĆ®tre’d simply took our bags, told us to relax, got our name for the reservation and led us to our table. He asked where we were coming from, said they were glad we were there and started everything on a great note. He could have commented on our late arrival, made a big deal about the bags or been stuffy or unpleasant but he wasn’t. This foreshadowed the rest of the evening. The wait staff was relaxing, engaging and fun. The food was not just beautiful it was perfection. Each course was unique and made me smile, but nothing more than when I realized Bob was getting seafood (caviar, skate and lobster) while I had alternatives to the seafood. For anyone who does not do tasting menus, this is highly unusual; in most restaurants everyone at the table has the same dish, so Bob does not get seafood since I don’t.

20140620-180640-65200840.jpg

20140620-180640-65200160.jpg But not at Alinea. There we each got our own versions of the dish and it was just perfect. I can say I had probably the best meal, start to finish, of my life. Was it expensive? Yes. More than I am comfortable paying, but I would do it again. It was worth ever penny and if I ever have the opportunity to do it again, I will. The food was that good, but the service made the experience.

20140620-181007-65407614.jpg
The final detail. When we were seated the maitre’d asked if we would need a cab after dinner; we said yes. So after the meal ended we were brought downstairs, thanked for coming, given our bags and walked out to a waiting cab. Not one we had to wait for, but one that was waiting for us. It was details like that really show what good service can do for an experience. It really is all about the service.

June a Cheese Box

There are distinct advantages to knowing your local cheesemonger. The very fact that I have a local cheesemonger still makes me giggle two years after finding the shop. I know I extol Louise’s virtues every time I make a cheese post, but she, and the other ‘cheese gals’ are wonderful. I will also (as usual) say if you have any interest in cheese and will be near Sarasota you need to check out Artisan Cheese Company and chat with Louise or any of her staff. The shop has a very friendly feel and they really do take their time to get to know their customers and each person’s likes and dislikes.

This month’s box included a Smoked Blue cheese from Kentucky.

20140615-092445-33885633.jpg It is the prettiest blue cheese I’ve seen, but I really, really don’t like blue cheese. (More on that and the advantages of knowing your cheesemonger in a second.) Bob, however, loves blue cheese and so Louise did include this one in our box. Bob loved this one. As the name indicates, it is smokey but not overpowering with a mild blue flavor. This is according to Bob as I did not have any. It has a creamy texture and beautiful veining. Bob gushed about this one so much he wants to pick up more before we visit his parents next month. (By the way, Nan and Bud …. We are thinking about visiting next month.)

Now because Louise knows I don’t like blue cheese (and she has had me try several to see if there is a type I do like) she gave us less of the blue, but added a Kentucky sheep cheese for me. Good Shepard is the very cute name and this cheese was about as perfect a cheese for me as you can get.

20140615-093019-34219901.jpg The flavor isn’t strong, but it is deep. It almost melts in your mouth and is perfect by itself or with nuts, crackers or a little blackberry jam. I will have an excellent lunch the next few days at work with this gem.

20140615-093257-34377419.jpg Also in our box this month was an ash goat cheese from Goat Lady Dairy. We had a goat cheese log from them last month (which I totally forgot to post) which was good, but not spectacular. This one was amazing. Creamy and mild but it had a great flavor. I’m still coming to terms in my own head that mild and bland are not the same thing. Bland is the absence of flavor, I suppose, and mild is subtle flavors. This definitely falls on the subtle flavors side of the coin and I liked it best by itself on bread.

20140615-093615-34575231.jpg Our last cheese this month was from France – Montboisse du Haut Livradois. This one is pretty incredible too. It has a stronger smell than taste, and a slight texture (possibly from the ash layer) to it, but it is creamy and silky and all the wonderful things you want cheese to be. I liked this one with the cranberry hazelnut crackers and a touch of the black tea jam. It has a slight nutty taste to it which lets it stand up to other flavors.

20140615-094052-34852676.jpg This month (like almost every other month when we get our box) I get super excited and simply amazed what milk, enzymes and time can create. The sheer variety of cheeses are incredible and I feel very lucky to have a local cheesemonger that knows our tastes and really emphasizes quality – both in products and service. We love our cheese club so much, Bob and I already signed up for a second year of it – and we are leaving the choices of cheese to Louise each month. It’s a mini Christmas and a great ‘date night’ for us.

Summer Stir Fry

I had every intention of making Pad Thai this afternoon. I picked up some pretty veggies and cilantro at the farmers market this morning and was super excited by this. (It’s also cheese night so double excitement for food today.) What I didn’t consider was that I was almost out of soy sauce. I thought I had another bottle in the pantry, but I didn’t. To make pad thai I need four to six tablespoons of soy sauce; I had two. So rather than going out for Indian or heading down to the grocery store, I improvised.

I went with what I had on hand:
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1.5 tablespoons grated ginger
1 tablespoon chili garlic paste

I mixed all of that together and set it aside. I slice up some form tofu, seasoned it with salt and pepper and pan fried it in a little peanut oil.

20140614-134452-49492987.jpg

Meanwhile I chopped the vegetables:
1/4 red opinion, sliced thin
1 carrot, cut into match sticks
1 handful sugar snap peas (end cut off)
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

20140614-134656-49616974.jpg

After the tofu was done I beat one egg and quickly scrambled it so it wasn’t cooked completely and added it to the tofu. I used a little more peanut oil and added the vegetables. I used one tablespoon of the sauce to help season the vegetables and added some chopped peanuts and half the cilantro. To that I added the rice noodles and then half the remaining sauce. Once the noodles were coated and everything was mixed together, I added the tofu, egg and the rest of the sauce. Toss it all a little longer over medium heat then squeeze a slice of line over everything.

20140614-135335-50015392.jpg

I was a little nervous about this one. I didn’t have a recipe and was pretty much winging it. It came out really well, however. Bright flavors and enough depth of flavor to keep both Bob and I eating. I really did love this so I will chalk it up as a win.