St. Louis and a Birthday Dinner

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I think it was Thomas Wolfe who said that you can’t go home again. Well, I did last weekend.

Wolfe has a point. Everything changes, whether you want it to or not. Sometimes those changes are for the better; other times, you find yourself mourning a memory, a person, or a place.

Either way, there’s something to be said about going back to where it all began (for you) (proverbially). It reminds you of who you are and where you came from.

Last weekend, I surprised my mom for her sixtieth birthday in St. Louis. My siblings are scattered throughout the Midwest, but they all came home for the occasion.

We mostly spent the weekend relaxing and eating, two things that my family does best. We also took some long walks and I went on a run around the neighborhood.

Compared to D.C., my old neighborhood is like the country. We went to a local park and I did a double-take when I saw 10 horses walking out of a stable.screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-7-06-01-pm
I also forgot how big the sky looks when you don’t have buildings poking up into it. When I went on a run by myself, the sky seemed like it stretched out forever over the hills and trees. It’s sobering but also reassuring. It reminds you of your place.screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-7-06-25-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-23-at-7-06-41-pm
The last night that I was in town, I cooked my mom a birthday dinner. She loves salmon so I made a lemon dijon salmon, roasted asparagus, tomato salad and a cayenne rice pilaf. My younger sister played sous-chef and made some amazing chive roasted potatoes. I told her that I wanted to take them in a dark room and eat them all by myself.

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Back in August, I went to get my D.C. license when my Missouri license expired. After I got my picture taken and was waiting for the papers to go through, I said offhandedly to the DMV clerk, “well, no more Missouri.” “It will always be a part of you,” she responded, without missing a beat. I’ll never forget that.screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-7-07-14-pm
My brother introduced me to Father John Misty when I was home. Here’s a song I’ve been jamming out to this week.

Lemon Dijon Salmon (slightly adapted from here)

Ingredients

1.5 lbs salmon fillets
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 tbsp light olive oil
2 tbsp of fresh lemon juice
lemon slices for topping

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil.

In a small bowl, mix together: 2 tbsp parsley, 2-3 pressed cloves garlic, ½ tbsp Dijon, ½ tsp salt, ⅛ tsp pepper, 2 tbsp oil and 2 tbsp lemon juice.

Slice salmon into 4 portions and arrange them on a lined baking dish, keeping salmon skin-side-down.

Generously brush top and sides of salmon with sauce and top with fresh lemon slices.
Bake at 450°F for 12-15 min or until just cooked through and flaky. Don’t over-cook.

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Zucchini Bake with Mozzarella

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I was scrolling through Instagram on Sunday morning and I stopped when I saw a picture of a zucchini bake with mozzarella. Whoa, I thought to myself. This is happening.

The picture didn’t come with a recipe, so I decided to improvise. I got two zucchini, some basil and fresh mozzarella from the farmers’ market, and then I bought a can of tomatoes at the grocery store. I’d usually make my own sauce, but I’m all about the San Marzano tomatoes. They make a mean sauce.

The best part about this dish is that it comes together in one skillet. I fried some shallots with garlic and olive oil, added the sauce and some herbs, and then layered the zucchini and mozzarella on top. Pop it in the oven, wait until the cheese gets golden brown and bubbly, and you have dinner.

I would highly recommend serving this with baguette. Rice would be good, too, but I like the way the bread mops up the sauce.

When I was eating this, I realized that it tasted vaguely familiar. Then I realized that my mom used to make something similar all the time when I was younger. I guess I had the recipe in the back of my mind all along.

Here’s a song for zucchini baking. Or, you know, whenever.

Zucchini Bake with Mozzarella (from me, to you)

Ingredients

2 large zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 small shallot, minced
4 small cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 28 oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1/4 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 ball fresh mozzarella, ripped into shreds (there’s no other good way to put this)
sliced basil leaves for topping

Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the minced shallot and garlic and fry until golden brown. Add the tomatoes and spices, and give it a stir.

Let the sauce come to a simmer and then turn down the heat so the mixture is just barely bubbling. Keep an eye on things so the mixture doesn’t explode (whoops).

Carefully add the zucchini on top of the sauce, forming one wreath around the outside of the skillet and another toward the middle. Sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella.

Stick the skillet in the oven and let the mixture bake until the mozzarella cheese is brown and bubbling. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for a minute before topping with the sliced basil leaves. Sprinkle with more black pepper for serving. Enjoy!

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Mixed Berry Pitaya Smoothie Bowl

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When I started making smoothie bowls and was looking for inspiration, I kept seeing pictures of bright purple smoothies. I wanted to make ones with the same color, but then I realized that everyone was using dragonfruit, a.k.a. pitaya.

D.C. often feels like the subtropics, but it’s actually just a city on a swamp. We don’t have dragonfruit, except for once in a while when Whole Foods or a specialty market gets a shipment.

I became so desperate for the fruit that I looked into buying pitaya online. I realized that you could get it frozen, but I wasn’t willing to shell out the cash.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I found a belated birthday present in the frozen section of Whole Foods: frozen pitaya packs. It almost seemed too good to be true. I felt like I would pay any amount for them, maybe similar to how you’d feel if you were bartering for a new kidney. Luckily, it wasn’t too expensive.

Now, I’m on a pitaya smoothie bowl roll. I’ve made two in the past couple weeks, but I think that the one I made today takes first prize. It has a lot of my favorite things: chia seeds, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds for texture, toasted almonds, some berries and bananas. I even kept the whole thing vegan by using coconut yogurt, although, truth-be-told, I can’t stand the stuff plain.

But anyway, I digress. If you want to make a smoothie bowl with a vibrant purple hue, check the frozen foods aisle at Whole Foods or a specialty grocery store. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a bounty of pitaya at your fingertips, use that.

I’ve been on a Crosby, Stills & Nash kick lately. Here’s one of my favorites.

Mixed Berry Pitaya Smoothie Bowl (from me, to you)

Ingredients

1 pitaya smoothie pack (I used this brand)
1/4 cup blueberries
1/2 a banana
1 container plain coconut yogurt
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, fresh blueberries and blackberries, sliced toasted almonds for topping

Directions

Blend the pitaya smoothie pack with the bluberries, banana, coconut yogurt and unsweetened almond milk in a blender on high until smooth. Top with the chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, fresh blueberries and blackberries and sliced toasted almonds. Enjoy!

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Caramelized Peach Pancakes

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I’ll never forget these pancakes, partly because I cut off part of my thumb trying to make them.

Before I go any further, I’ll stop because I realize there are some among us who are queasy and don’t like the grisly details, myself included. Let’s just say that it involved a mandoline peeler and a momentarily lapse of judgment.

ANYWAY. Now that we’re past that, onward and outward.

These pancakes are delicious. They tasted that much sweeter after making I made them with a maimed hand. I’ve read horrors stories about chefs who continue to cook through the extremes, burned hands and broken fingers be damned. I’m not going to say that I rank among these chefs, but I guess, in a way, I am.

Because by making these pancakes, I realized that anything is possible. I wanted to eat them so badly that I didn’t stop making them, even when I knew that I should. I don’t know how I did it, in retrospect. But I have the picture to prove it.

I used an old pancake recipe and combined it with one I saw for caramelized peaches. Mascarpone was on sale at the grocery store so I bought some and put a dollop on top. The cool cream pairs well with the sweet peaches, and adding a little maple syrup at the end doesn’t hurt.

Here’s a song to get you through life’s little crises, whether it’s a botched peeling job or something more serious.

Caramelized Peach Pancakes (from me, to you)

Ingredients

1 cup almond milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp canola oil
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 tsp light brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 peach, sliced
mascarpone cheese and maple syrup for serving

Directions

Whisk together milk, eggs and canola oil in a medium bowl, then whisk in the butter.

Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in another medium bowl. Whisk in egg mixture until combined.

Grease a skillet with butter. Pour a couple tablespoons of batter onto the skillet and place a few peach slices on top. Cook until little bubbles appear on the surface of the cake. Flip pancakes with a spatula and cook until undersides are golden, about 1 minute more. Lower heat if pancakes brown too quickly. Serve with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and maple syrup.

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Asian Melon Mango Coconut Smoothie Bowl

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I was at a breakfast crossroads this morning. I had an Asian melon that I bought at Eastern Market on Sunday, some bananas, and berries and chia seeds for an overnight oatmeal that I forgot to make last night. So I decided to improvise and ended up making this bowl.

This is my most delicious smoothie bowl to date. The Asian melon, banana, mango and coconut yogurt give the bowl a tropical flavor. The berries add some sweetness and the chia seeds and toasted coconut add texture. On a day like today, when it’s supposed to be at least 90 degrees F in D.C., I’m thankful for the refreshment.

If you’re vegan, feel free to swap in some dairy-free yogurt. Otherwise, I’d definitely recommend going with the Siggi’s coconut yogurt that I used. It makes the smoothie thick and creamy and creates a base for everything you put on top.

Here’s a song to jam out to while you make this bowl.

Asian Melon Mango Coconut Smoothie Bowl (from me, to you)

Ingredients

half a banana, frozen
1/2 cup frozen mango
1 Asian melon, seeds removed and flesh scooped out
1 Siggi’s coconut yogurt
1 cup almond milk
raspberries, fresh banana slices, blackberries, chia seeds, toasted coconut flakes for topping

Directions

Blend the banana, Asian melon, mango, coconut yogurt and almond milk in a blender on high until smooth. Pour into a bowl and smooth a little with the back of a spoon. Top with raspberries, fresh banana slices, blackberries, chia seeds and toasted coconut flakes. Enjoy!

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Peach Crumble Shake

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Let me tell you about the best milkshake I’ve ever had. But before we go any further, I have to warn you: it’s vegan.

If you’re still reading, congratulations. You’re about to get the recipe for the best milkshake I’ve ever had, which means that you can drink said milkshake.

This peach crumble shake is not messing around, people. I am the biggest proponent of full-dairy drinks (see: ice cream diet), but this shake could be made from clouds for all I care. It’s sweet, tangy, refreshing and delicious. If I could choose a flavor for my life, this would be it.

Anyway, before I get even more carried away, a couple things about this shake: One, it has rolled oats. That might seem weird to some of you but trust me, it works to the shake’s advantage. It’s creamy and smooth and the oats give it a little texture.

Two, you should probably double the recipe. I poured it into a mason jar to serve, and I ended up going and scrounging out the rest from the blender with a spoon, a straw…pretty much anything that would do the job.

So yeah. Make this shake, ASAP. Your life will be all the better for it.

In the meantime, here’s a song to listen to.

Peach Crumble Shake (slightly adapted from The First Mess)

Ingredients

2 ripe peaches, pitted, sliced and frozen
¼ cup rolled oats
1 pitted Medjool date
1 tablespoon chia seeds
big squeeze of fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used almond milk)

Directions

Blend all the ingredients in a blender on high until smooth. Top with sliced peach, chia seeds, a dash of cinnamon, rolled oats and some bee pollen (if you have it).

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Heirloom Tomato Galette

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When I was little, I got a really nice nightgown as a holiday present. “Where’s it from?” I asked my mom. “Tar-jay,” she said. I immediately pictured a fancy French boutique, but then I realized that she was talking about Target.

The whole Target/tar-jay anecdote reminds me of galettes, albeit tangentially. When you tell someone you’re making a galette, they’re a thousand times more impressed than when you say you’re making a pizza. A rose by any other name, or something like that.

Which brings me to this heirloom tomato galette. No matter what you call it, it’s delicious. I would recommend getting the good heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market (if you have one nearby), or spending a little more on the best looking ones at the grocery store. Quality is key here.

The kale basil pesto came into play because I wanted to use up extra kale, and also because I think that basil smells better than almost anything else.

You could use mozzarella for the galette, but I would go with the ricotta cheese. It’s soft, light and not too salty, and it pairs well with the kale and basil. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top and garnish with some extra basil leaves, and you’re in business.

Another thing about this galette: The dough is pretty easy to make. Maybe it’s because I finally surrendered to using the dough hook on my kitchen aid mixer rather than doing it all by hand. Either way, the dough doesn’t require a lot of leg work or fridge time. It’s good for people like me, whose patience is extremely limited.

Here is a good song to get you on your way.

Heirloom Tomato Galette (adapted from Tasting Table)

Ingredients

for the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1¼ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
1½ sticks unsalted butter, cold and cubed
¾ cup ice-cold water

for the kale basil pesto:
1/4 cup olive oil or more, depending on how thin you want the pesto
1 cup kale leaves
1/2 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

for the galette:
1/2 cup ricotta
kale basil pesto
1½ pounds heirloom tomatoes, sliced ¼-inch thick
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 egg, beaten
flaky sea salt, for garnish
basil leaves, for garnish

Directions

Make the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. Using your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until pea-sized pieces form. Add the water and continue to knead until a dough forms. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the kale basil pesto: Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse on high until smooth. Add more olive oil if the mixture is too thick.

Make the galette: Preheat the oven to 375º. Roll out the dough into an 18-inch circle, ⅙-inch thick. Transfer the dough over to a sheet of parchment paper and spread the kale pesto to form a thin layer on the dough, leaving a two-inch outer border clear. Put dollops of the ricotta on top of the kale, and then arrange the tomato slices over the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Fold the outer ½-inch of dough over itself to form an even lip around the galette, then begin to fold the dough over the tomatoes, forming a series of pleats. Brush the outside crust liberally with the beaten egg.

Bake until the galette is golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool completely, then garnish with flaky sea salt and basil leaves. Enjoy!

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