A Little Heat

I’ve been washing sand out of my hair for three days.

Ah, but it’s worth it. Megan and I hit up the beach for the second weekend in a row. Some sun and a little heat = the perfect Saturday afternoon. Also, I applied enough sunscreen to avoid the burn the plagued me last week…Hey, at least I learn fromy my mistakes. Sometimes.

Speaking of heat, when I started this little dog and pony show a year ago, I was a bit of a wimp when it came to spicy stuff. But since discovering the amazingness that is Sriracha, I’ve expanded my palate to include levels of heat I previously would have avoided at all costs.

Which how these ended up in my cart during my last trip to Trader Joe’s:

And how this happened:

Look, hummus is like a whole separate food group for me these days. Much like spicy mayo, I dip everything in it and devour it like a starved beast. How’s that for an appetizing picture? Sorry about that…Let’s just skip to the recipe, shall we?

Jalapeno Hummus

  • 1 can garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons garlic
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a blender or food processor, process beans, garlic, jalapeno pepper, and olive oil. Add lemon, tahini, and salt and blend well until smooth and creamy.

I have to say this Jalapeno Hummus is one of my new favorite hummus combos – it’s got just enough heat. I foresee a new obsession…

And now I’m off to take yet another shower to see if I can get rid of those last few sand grandules. It seems a little fruitless considering the fact that I’ll most likely be back at the beach in a few days, but when have you known me to do anything that makes much sense?

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Queen of Sweet Corn

For as long as I can remember, there has been one unwavering staple that has defined every summer of my life:

What? You were expecting a bottle of Summer Shandy? Please, I may enjoy booze but I wasn’t drinking Shandy when I was nine, it’s not like I have a problem. Nor was Shandy in existence at that time. Brush up on your Shandy history, my friends.

Anyway, sweet corn has always been a huge part of every summer for me. Maybe because I hail from the sweet corn capital of the world. Yes, Mendota is the official home of the Annual Sweet Corn Festival. Yeah, we’re serious about corn.  Don’t believe me? Part of the annual fest is a Sweet Corn Queen Pageant. And guess who was a contestant?

I'm the non-Asian with the overly pouffy hair, in case you don't recognize me...

Shockingly, I did not follow in the footsteps of my beautiful friend Karen (to my right) who had won a spot in the prestigious Queen Court the year before. There was, um, a small microphone malfunction and when I confidently answered my question (“What historical figure would you most like to meet and why?”) half of the county suffered mild hearing loss. Which is a shame, especially because my answer was Anne Frank.

The girl who won, who coincedentally did not have any microphone issues, had been given the question, “If you could be any Beanie Baby which would you choose and why?” How her answer -which I belive was Spangle, because he represents the freedom our great country fought so bravely for (I know, gag) - trumped my heartfelt affinity for the girl who could still see the good in humanity despite having endured one of the worst wars and acts of genocide our world has ever seen, still baffles me to this day. Apparently using the word genocide in a beauty pageant is frowned upon…

So, no Sweet Corn Queen crown for me. Whomp, whomp. But, hey – I did get to ride the loser float in the parade the next day.

That's me in the upper left hand corner, waving proudly from the top of my loser float throne...

Eh, you win some, you lose some. At least I’m not still bitter about it over ten years later. At least I’ve got that.

These days, though I do try to make it home for the annual SCF (yeah, it’s so cool it has an acronym), I enjoy sweet corn outside the city limits of Mendota. And in less traditional ways.

Summer Veggie Flatbread. Otherwise known as my lunch for the next month or so.

Look, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but I feel strongly that your life would be exponentially better if you made this. I truly do. It’s a tad more involved than my typical “throw a bunch of stuff in a pan and call it a meal” recipes, but I promise you it’s worth the extra time. Trust me. Also, this recipe contains presto, er, pesto – so you know it’s going to be good.

Summer Vegetable Flatbread

Flat Bread Dough

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 6 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of Italian herbs (optional)
  • Cooking spray

Toppings

  • 2 ears of fresh sweet corn
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pesto
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in 6 tablespoons warm water in a large bowl and stir in 1/4 cup flour. Let stand 30 minutes or until bubbly. Add 1 3/4 cups flour, 1/2 cup warm water, salt and Italian herbs to yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Then add enough of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough. Punch dough down, then cover and let rest 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400. Coat a baking pan with cooking spray or olive oil and evenly roll flatbread dough into pan. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until center is set.

Meanwhile, wrap cleaned corn in waxed paper and cook in the microwave for 2 minutes. Let cool for a couple of minutes and then cut the corn from the cobs. Brush the zucchini, tomatoes and corn with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt and sauté in a skillet until tender, 5 to 7 minutes, turning occasionally.

After your vegetables are done, brush the pesto onto the flatbread and then top it with the vegetables and cheese. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the crust is slightly golden and the cheese is melted.

Slice it up and enjoy it hot and fresh from the oven. Or have it cold the next day. Both are acceptable. And delicious.

A meal fit for a Sweet Corn Queen. Or, you know, the girl who should have been Sweet Corn Queen.

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Presto! Pesto!

My mom has a hard time saying the word “ibuprofen.” 

Don’t ask me why. I’ve tried to coach her how to say it many, many times – as I have a B.A. in Communications and thus am qualified to undertake such a task (no I’m not) – but she still can’t say it. So instead of continuing to help her, I find every opportunity I can to solicit the word from her and laugh when she can’t say it. 

It’s a good thing I didn’t become a teacher.

Anyway, during one of my recent teasing sessions she took the opportunity to casually remind me of my own language limitations. “Maybe I can’t say that word but you thought pesto was actually called presto for like a full year,” she retorted snidely.

This, sadly, is true. 

The first pesto dish I had was from Noodles & Company in college. I went around telling everyone how much I loved the “Presto Cavatappi” from Noodles until my mother, who doesn’t even like pesto, corrected me.  Clearly I have no business writing a blog that has anything to do with food, but my inadequacy has never held me back before, so why let it stop me now?

So we had a good laugh over my complete lack of knowledge pertaining to Italian sauces and then hung  up. And then all I could think about for three days was pesto. This is what my life has come to.  On the fourth day I broke down and headed to the store. I’ve always just bought pre-made pesto from Trader Joe’s because, well, it’s super affordable. But I was feeling extra ambitious so I picked up some fresh basil and a small, but expensive package of these:

Only $8 for for a 1/2 cup!

I’m pretty cheap, but I never mind paying a little extra for cheese and nuts. These are my two weaknesses. And you can’t make presto, er, pesto without pine nuts. Plus, it turns out, pesto is like the easiest thing in the world to make. And let me tell you, fresh pesto is so much better than store bought. Trust me on this.

Presto! Pesto 

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and cheese and then process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Use immediately or transfer to a jar. Add the remainder of the olive oil on top to prevent oxidation.

I don’t expect this to last long. I’ve already got like four pesto-based recipes I’m planning to try.

I wish this stuff wasn’t so high in fat, but I just keep telling myself it’s the good fat. And clearly it’s fine to eat massive quantities of fat, as long as it’s the good fat. Don’t you dare try to tell me any different. Besides, it’s green – that’s got to count for something right?

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Give Up the Funk

I’m so glad I did my hair this morning.

I never “do” my hair. My hair is fine and stick straight and doesn’t like to do anything but, well, be fine and stick straight. You see, my sister received the hair styling gene – along with a beautiful head of hair – but it passed me by.

So I usually just opt to flip my head upside down, blow dry my hair and go. Easy-peasy. Borning as hell. But easy. Today, however – for reasons that still elude me – I was up at 3:45am. So, with my plethora of extra time I decided I was going to style my hair. And I’d like to think it turned out pretty good, considering my limited skills. Overly pleased with myself, I left for work. It was sunny and warm out and I was thinking, “Hey, maybe today won’t be so bad!”

Cue thunder. And a freak, random downpour. Hello, streaked mascara and see-through white shirt. Goodbye, beautifully styled hair.

*SIGH.* It was nice while it lasted – all 20 minutes or so. And I suppose it should have been expected. I feel like maybe the universe has been out to get me this week. Or perhaps I’m just in a bit of a funk. 

Like a I’m-bored-frustrated-exhausted-unmotivated funk. Yeah, one of those. If you’ve ever been in a funk like that, you know how much it sucks. You know how all you really want to do is sit on your balcony in your bathing suit, eat licorice and read your damn Harry Potter book in peace. Because is that too much to ask? Don’t worry, I’m not going to post a picture of me in my bathing suit, eating licorice and reading. That would just be cruel.

Here’s the thing – I feel like my whole life is one big ball of transition right now. I’m a firm believer in change, I truly am. But sometimes it’s easier said than done and the time in between the old and the new – that transition time – can be brutal. Hence my funk.

And hence my lackluster running efforts.

You have to charge me every now and then if you want me to work...

I begged and pleaded the universe for this beautiful Garmin. Yet it sits in my bedroom uncharged more often than not.  I vowed once my event craziness subsided I would strap this puppy on and run like, you know, a real runner does. But my life continues to be a bit too chaotic for me to remember to charge the damn thing. So, so lame. No matter. I pounded the pavement this morning and netted around 3 miles. They were ugly. And thus I’m okay with not knowing my pace.

My cooking has been a bit lackluster these days as well.

Throw whatever is left in your fridge in a pan and all it dinner...

Tofu + Red Peppers + Asparagus + Edamame + Soba Noodles.  Mix in some garlic, terayaki and olive oil and you’ve got yourself dinner. And lunch. And maybe breakfast if you’re really desperate. It gets the job done and is pretty delicious if I do say so myself. A tad boring, but the perfect funk stir-fry.

Alas, like my beautifully styled hair, this funk can’t last forever. And it’s already showing signs of dissipating. I plugged my Garmin in before I left the house this morning and I’ve started an actual, legitimate grocery list – both good signs.

My hair, on the other hand, I’m afraid is a lost cause. Thank god for ponytails.

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Chobani Boka Extravaganza

Hey, I want to show you something:

That, my friends, is lamb ala Boka, otherwise known as the best thing I’ve eaten all summer. Jealous? You should be.

Wednesday night, thanks to Megan, I got to pretend I was a real blogger and attended a dinner hosted by Chobani at Boka, one of Chicago’s hottest restaurants. I was pretty excited to go because 1) I’ve been dying to try out Boka and 2) I was curious to see how Chobani would incorporate their yogurt into different dishes. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but let me just say, neither disappointed.

Four lovely Chobani staff members hosted myself and ten other Chicago area bloggers. When we arrived we were greeted with appetizers and wine. After mingling and getting to know everyone a little better, we got down to business.

Four beautiful courses. All created by the mastermind chefs at Boka. All Chobani-inspired. To say I was excited would be an understatement. We started with this:

Hay Roasted Baby Beets, Blueberries, CHOBANI Greek Yogurt, Fir Tree Honey, Pepper Wheat Cracker. I could eat this every single day of my life. The flavor combination was out of this world. Beets are one of my favorite veggies and I’ve never seen them used in such a creative way. The blueberries and honey added a touch of sweetness and the Chobani yogurt pulled it all together. I give it an A+.

Then we moved onto the second course.

Soft Shell Crab, Grilled Prawns, CHOBANI Greek Yogurt Grits, Morel Mushrooms, Beet Braised Kohlrabi, Mache. I can’t really do this course justice with words. I just can’t. But I’ll try. The crab and prawns were cooked to perfection and literally melted in my mouth. The Chobani grits complimented the seafood perfectly and brought a nice balance to the dish. And the mushrooms – the mushrooms were nothing short of amazing.

And just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any better, they brought this out:

Lamb Rack, Rooibos, Bulgur Wheat, Roasted Baby Vegetables, Purple Fingerling Potatoes, Fava Beans, Roasted Eggplant with CHOBANI Greek Yogurt Sauce. This dish the star of the evening. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had lamb, and I was a little nervous when I saw it on the menu, but the geniuses at Boka clearly know what they are doing because every bite of this dish was spectacular.

Finally, we ended the evening with something sweet.

CHOBANI Greek Yogurt Pana Cotta,  Plums, Honey. Simple, elegant and delicious. I was already beyond full but  you better believe I made room for this.

And then it was over. And I was sad. But I stayed and chatted a little longer with a few bloggers as Stu, the most amazing waiter ever, kept topping off my wine glass. Overall, I have nothing but wonderful things to say about both Boka and Chobani. But I’m sure you’ve gathered that much by my excessive use of adjectives like “amazing” and “spectacular.” Annoying, I know, but so absolutely necessary and true.

A huge thank you to the wonderful Chobani ladies – Emily, Jackie, Mariana and Amy – for letting me join in the fun. I am now officially obsessed with Boka and Chobani. Oh, and my new water bottle and lunch tote.

Free swag. Seriously, it’s fun to pretend I’m a real blogger. I could get used to this.

Have a wonderful Friday and an amazing (sorry, I couldn’t resist) weekend. And if you are in Chicago, do yourself a favor and make a reservation at Boka. You won’t regret it. And if you need a dining partner, well I’d be happy to accompany you.

Posted in Blogger Meet Ups, Chicago, Food, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments