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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

When I started this exploration of the foods of recently maligned countries a few weeks ago, the only real familiarity I had with African foods were those from Ethiopia. When I first moved to Chicago, there were three Ethiopian restaurants within walking distance of my apartment. I’d go frequently on the weekends when they had a cheap and plentiful buffet and load up on all sorts of delicious things – the spongy sour bread that sops up all the delicious flavors, the deeply flavored, subtly spicy stews and the tender, flavorful greens. Oh man, those greens. Right off the bat, I knew I had to make those greens.

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As far as I’m concerned, leftovers are a key part of any Thanksgiving table. Who doesn’t like to wake up, turn on a football game, hopefully the first of many, and make a big fat sandwich piled high with all the fixings from the day before? As any good hostess will tell you, planning for leftovers is key to a successful Thanksgiving. Sadly, in all the years that I’ve been an adult on my own, I’ve only hosted Thanksgiving once. Once! So I’ve really only had real leftovers that one time. I have, however, been known to make parts of the classic dinner just to have my own leftovers. Mostly the sides though because, as we all know, the sides are the best part.

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I’ve been on a fall recipe kick lately – squash, pumpkin, apples, beets. I made the switch so fast from summer tomatoes and corn, it caught me by surprise. When I recently found myself with some extra butternut squash and no inkling (nor freezer space) to make soup, I thought about a sandwich. Specifically, it was a sandwich I had last spring at Bad Hunter, a Chicago restaurant. Their menu is interesting – mostly vegetarian but with a bit of meat here and there for flavor, creative dishes that are quite beautiful and with spectacular desserts. One menu item really struck a chord with me: a crispy squash sandwich.

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A few weeks ago, I saw an Instagram post by my friend Camas Davis, proprietor of the Portland Meat Collective. It was a shot of quartered beets with the greens attached and she mentioned she was cooking from the Gjelina cookbook. I’d always cooked the two separately; this idea of cooking them together intrigued me. And I had that book somewhere. More importantly, I had beets with the greens still attached in the refrigerator and no real plan for them. The timing was perfect so I rounded up my copy of Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Chef Travis Lett and found the recipe. It seemed simple enough, small beets are roasted with the tops until the bulbs are tender and the greens are crispy. Simple enough until I made it. There was this one thing, this one annoying little direction, that had me cursing.

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For the first time, in all my years of community gardening, my rosemary was popping this summer. Much to my surprise, it had grown into a large, vibrant bush. This had never happened before. Last year it flat out died on me in the middle of the summer and in other years it was small, stringy and unimpressive. I have no idea what I did differently this year. Maybe it liked that I went to France for most of the summer and left it alone. The good news is I can easily replicate that situation next year. Whatever happened, I was delighted to see it upon my return.

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So I’ve just returned from France, particularly the Southwest region, where I spent the better part of this summer and I’ve come back energized and filled with all kinds of ideas. My weeks were filled with cooking, a lot of eating, a lot of cold rosé, good friends and twice weekly market visits. One day I walked into my friend Kate’s kitchen to the most delightful smells. In the oven were pans of the beloved Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes, slowly roasting in a little bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Later, she slipped the skins off, packed them into jars and water processed them for longer storage. Just a normal everyday occurrence for her but a light bulb went off in my head. The woman is a genius.

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Summer food is summer food for a reason. The ingredients tend to be things that are in season, many for only a short time like tomatoes and corn. The dishes typically come together quickly with a consideration given to not heating up the kitchen, utilizing techniques like grilling or a quick stovetop sauté and avoidance of the oven altogether. Full disclosure: I break this rule all the time and just sweat it out. I make what I want to make, weather be damned. Last weekend toward the end of a horrible heat wave, I was craving something cool and light and I was seriously considering sitting in a bucket of ice during every meal. Friends were coming over for Sunday Lunch and I decided to channel my inner French woman and make the ultimate summer meal I’ve enjoyed immensely during my travels – a Grand Aioli.

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