You know when you haven’t seen someone in a while, and all of a sudden you run into them (somewhat awkwardly) in a public place? Maybe you’re excited to see them (or, maybe not…), but ultimately the question that crosses your mind is: Where have they been for the last three months?
Well, I can only speak for myself when I say it has been way too long. Graduate school has kept me busy, and I’m lucky if I get a few moments of peace. I knew that the program would be vigorous, but I didn’t imagine staying up until 3 a.m. editing videos, and then waking up a few hours later to make it to class…Or trying to navigate the streets of Chicago with a rental car, only to realize that I had driven more than a mile in the wrong direction.
Luckily, finals are quickly approaching and things have started to calm down (I say this with my fingers crossed). I had a little time this weekend to do some of the things I love, but haven’t gotten a chance to do in a while.
One of those things is brunch.
Brunch (not breakfast, lunch, or dinner) might be my favorite meal. I think it’s because brunch food leans towards the sweet (rather than savory), and often resembles dessert.
On Saturday I went to M. Henry in Chicago’s Edgewater/Andersonville neighborhood. I read about the restaurant in a food magazine, and was sold when I heard the words “bliss cakes.” As in, two layers of pure, carb bliss: pancakes layered with warm blackberries, vanilla mascarpone cream, and topped with brown sugar.
However, I ultimately ended up ordering a menu special, Brioche French toast with warm peaches, raspberries, vanilla creme, topped with brown sugar and oats…i.e., bliss cakes in French toast form.
The bread was light and fluffy, with just the right amount of crunch on the outside. The slices of brioche were delicately placed in a pool of vanilla creme, and the sweet, juicy raspberries and peaches were layered between the toast.
I might have exclaimed after the first bite…it’s hard to keep that much deliciousness to yourself.
After satisfying my French toast craving, I decided to take a healthier route. Today for lunch, I made a salad that I’ve been meaning to try for months. It comes from one of my favorite food blogs, Lottie and Doof, whose author actually lives in Chicago, too.
The salad was originally a Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend $8 for dates on a student budget. And I didn’t have white wine vinegar in my pantry (another ingredient the recipe called for).
I did have dried apricots, a bottle of (dangerously) old white wine, and a bunch of baby spinach on hand. So I made a few substitutions, and created a Baby Spinach Salad with Apricots and Almonds.
The stand-out ingredient in this salad is the pita bread. I have never eaten a salad with pita bread before, but now I’m hooked. I fried one-inch pieces of bread in a skillet with Olive Oil and butter, and then sprinkled some sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes on top.
If you’re not used to spicy food, you might want to take the red pepper flakes down a notch…I felt like my mouth was on fire after the first few bites, but then I adjusted. However, keeping your own tastes in mind, feel free to add just a sprinkling of pepper (or a tablespoon if you so desire).
The salad was the perfect end to a relaxing weekend. It balanced the sweet with the savory, and made me feel a little better about indulging in a tower of Brioche French toast on Saturday.
Once finals die down, I’ll be back with more posts…Until then, enjoy this salad (and perhaps a plate of Brioche French toast):
- 1 tablespoon white wine
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 3 1/2 oz/100g dried apricots
- 2 tablespoons/30g unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large pita, roughly torn into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup/75g sliced almonds
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 5 ounces/150g baby spinach leaves
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put the white wine, onion, and apricots in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain away any residual vinegar and discard.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and half of the olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the pita and almonds and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring continuously until the pita is crunchy and golden brown. Remove from the heat and mix in the red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.
When you are ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots and red onion, the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice, and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.