Zucchini and Sweet Corn Soup

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This was supposed to be a recipe for zucchini ribbon salad, with crunchy roasted chickpeas and crumbles of bright, tangy ricotta salata and a drizzle of extra fruity olive oil on top. But then I caught a weird midsummer cold, no doubt from the frigid tundra that is my office, and somehow that light summery salad became soup.

Unless you’re going the gazpacho route, soup in the summertime is a controversial option–hot liquid on a hot day is usually no bueno. But it’s been pretty mild the past few weeks (downright fall-like in the mornings, much to my chagrin), and soup can be such an easy, satisfying meal on weeknights, even if you don’t have a runny nose and a hacking cough.

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Look for small-ish zucchini, since they tend to have more flavor. I used frozen corn that I had in the back of the freezer (see: last minute recipe change), but it was still delicious, and fresh corn would be even better. Lemon zest and juice plus a handful of fresh mint add a zesty freshness to the soup, grounding it firmly in “summer” territory. And I couldn’t resist adding a few crumbles of ricotta salata to finish, because y’know, cheese.

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While eating this soup for lunch today, I came to a sad realization: summer is almost over. Labor Day is around the corner, and with it, all the back-to-business craziness of fall. I’m not ready to give up on summer dresses and Central Park picnics and days that last ’til 8 or 9 p.m. Let’s not think about it, and just eat soup instead. Continue reading

Skillet Gnocchi with Blistered Tomatoes

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Regardless of how much you cook, acclimating to a new kitchen is a process. Finding the best place for your pots and pans, your utensils, more (or less, for most NYC-ers) counter space, learning the quirks of each new oven and stove, not to mention where to keep all those spices you’ve accumulated in 4.5+ years of blogging?? Oh wait, that’s my anxiety seeping in, sorry.

Getting used to the in and outs of a new place takes time. The best way to do it? Cooking. Otherwise, you’ll never learn that the oven runs hot, or that the stove angles downward, or that two people cooking at the same time will be impossible without a kitchen cart.

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But obviously, that doesn’t mean jumping into a multi-part, 25-ingredient masterpiece in Week 1 at the new place. (For one, if you’re anything like me, most of your stuff is still in boxes because you hate unpacking.) Keeping the recipe simple allows you to focus on the kitchen itself — do the stove knobs get stuck at certain heat levels? Can I use this counter for prep work or is it in an awkward area? (If you have the luxury of multiple counters, you might find that one spot is easier to use than another.) Is the stove so small that my big skillet doesn’t fit? (Yes.)

I learned that the hard way, while making this skillet gnocchi with blistered tomatoes. Lost amidst the moving drama and excitement over Chicago was that summer produce has taken over the farmer’s market. Cherry tomatoes come in all colors and sizes, each
mini ball pit
of deliciousness. They star in this five-ingredient dish, and their quick jaunt in the skillet, along with spicy Italian sausage, olive oil and a pinch of crushed pepper, punches them up ever so slightly.

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You can get fancier with this, sauteeing diced zucchini or adding toasted pine nuts or shaved Pecorino. But it’s just as delicious in its simplest form, an easy weeknight dinner that doubled as my opportunity to test out my new home. Continue reading

3 Bites from Chicago

In my annual “fly to the Midwest for a concert I could’ve seen at home” series, last weekend I went to Chicago. The vacay served the triple purpose of allowing me to: a) see Beyonce a second time; b) catch up with old friends and family; and c) avoid packing / preparing for my pending move. AND I got to eat some amazing food. Win-win-win-win.

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Chicago’s food scene is pretty well-established, so much so that the James Beard Awards, one of the most important stamps of approval for an American chef, will move its awards ceremony to the Windy City next year, after 24 years in NYC. There are the obvious superstars: Grant Achatz’s Alinea and Next, Paul Kahan’s The Publican, Stephanie Izard’s The Girl and the Goat.

We didn’t bother trying to make rezzos at most of these places, since they’re booked up well in advance (and at least in the case of Alinea, are well out of our very-limited budget). But we did still manage to eat like queens. My favorite meals in Chi-town:

Pequod’s
Our first stop after landing: PIZZA. While tourists (and Steve Harvey) debate whether Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s, I got a tip from a local and headed straight to Pequod’s. Located a bit outside of downtown in Lincoln Park, Pequod’s serves up more of a “pan pizza” than a true “deep dish” (this explains the difference), but the main attraction is the ring of caramelized Parmesan on top of the crust. The Parm gets all nutty and frico-like in the oven, and adds some crunch to the otherwise bread-like (in a good way!) pizza crust.

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I’m not sure if I’ve been converted to a Chicago-style pizza girl yet (I’ll take a newspaper-thin slice with a crispy crust any day of the week), but Pequod’s was by far the best pizza I’ve had in a while. Bonus: they’re super cheap — our 10-inch pie was $14 with toppings and provided us with both lunch and breakfast the next day. And while we didn’t order it, they also have a $5 personal pie lunch special!

Karyn’s on Green
It’s a bit weird to go to a city known for its pizza and its hot dogs and then eat vegan. But Karyn’s on Green, in Greektown, was worth eschewing meat and cheese for. I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical — I’m usually not a fan of vegan places that traffic in fake meat, and their dinner menu included crab cakes, chicken parm and a charcuterie plate. But the charcuterie plate made interesting use of mushrooms and sunflower seeds to make pate and salumi, which was surprisingly good.

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I stayed on the safe side with my dinner order: roasted portabello caps with a root vegetable hash (and obviously, a side of caramelized Brussels sprouts). Vegetables are bomb when they’re done right, and Karyn’s knows how to do their vegetables — the portabellos were meaty without being rubbery, the hash was perfectly crisp-tender and the tempranillo glaze was a nice added touch.

Little Goat
We closed out our trip at Little Goat, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s diner on the oh-so-trendy Randolph Street in the West Loop.

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Izard’s diner takes bar food to the next level: grilled cheese with guanciale, nachos with homemade masa chips, cream cheese ice cream on top of blueberry pie. Mili and I split an order of the machos nachos, with BBQ pork, pickled peppers and those deliciously crunchy house-made chips, and the kalbi beef ribs. The ribs were BOMB: tender and slathered with a tangy fresh strawberry sauce, then topped with crispy fried onions. We ended with a slice of crazy-good Mexican chocolate cake and of course, a round of photos in the photo booth. The restaurant had a fun vibe and was a really nice way to end our trip — plus, Randolph Street is packed with bars, so the after-party is just a few steps away.

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Bonus bite: Leonidas Chocolates. This small Belgian chocolate shop/cafe is just off Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. We went there for dessert after a perfect lakeside picnic with my family, and between the excellent pastries, the supremely rich/delicious brownie, the amazing truffles and chocolates, and the gigantic chocolate-covered strawberries, I was in heaven. Plus, outdoor seating = perfect people-watching in this busy part of downtown.

Stuffed Zucchini with Ground Beef and Rice

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Let’s keep it short and sweet today, since you’re really just here for the meaty, cheesy goodness that is this stuffed zucchini.

Faced with only minuscule opportunities to cook over the past few weeks, my dinners consisted of Seamless, my mom’s frozen dinners,* and quick slices of pizza in between apartment viewings. The rare nights I got home before 9:30, I whipped up 20-minutes-or-less meals: fish tacos, corn salad, etc. I even had a bar for dinner … you know that’s rock bottom.

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But in between, I found a recipe for stuffed zucchini that approached “must make this now” territory. (Well, after I changed most of the ingredients to what I wanted the recipe to be.) The best part: I could make the recipe ahead of time, cooking various components when I had time, and assembling and eating it all when I found a respite from the madness.

So I cooked the rice one evening (aka it cooked while I caught up on Suits). I made the bolognese-style sauce another night, stirring in the cooked rice at the end. And then, in a fit of packing procrastination, I finally halved and scooped out the zucchini, filled and topped it with a pile of mozzarella and then baked it for 30 minutes until it was gooey perfection. And it reheats nicely, which means I can finally give my Seamless app a rest.

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*For years, my mom has cooked up double-batches of all of my favorite Indian dishes and frozen them in individual Tupperware so that I basically have frozen dinners that are 100% homemade, preservative-free, perfectly portion-sized and you know, delicious. Your mom is probably great, but mine is better. Continue reading

Blackened Fish Tacos

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I like to think that I handle stressful situations well. In my head, when faced with a challenge, I tackle it rationally, come up with a plan of attack and keep my cool throughout. In reality, I look a little bit more like this, running around like a crazy person until finally, I explode in a burst of anger and frustration, usually at my parents (but they have to talk to me anyway).

Things have been rough around here: in addition to the day-to-day busy-ness of work, two breaking news stories in the span of a few hours made for a crazy week. On top of that, my roommate and I are moving on July 31, and have yet to find a place to live (#notideal) so we traversed Manhattan looking at multiple “meh” apartments night after night. And you know, I leave for Chicago in a few days and need to get ready for that …

Because it’s been so crazy, I haven’t spent a ton of time cooking. And when I am in the kitchen, it’s mostly been to throw random fridge items together haphazardly and label it “salad,” a thoroughly uninteresting, unappetizing meal.

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The lone exception? These blackened fish tacos. Though they take no time to make (seriously, the longest part of the recipe is waiting for the fish to marinate), they’re incredibly delicious, the kind of “zero work + immense reward” situation that is ideal for busy weeks. Topped with my favorite no-mayo slaw (also super easy and ridiculously good), avocado, red onion, cilantro and a hefty squeeze of lime, they’re perfect for summer, a light dinner that leaves you with plenty of time to enjoy the evening. (Or in my case, see yet another apartment.)  Continue reading