An Update + Tasty Lunch

Hi all,

We are terribly sorry that in the whirlwind that is the summer, we have not had the opportunity to update our blog.

Francisco graduated from college!! Whee! For the past month-ish, he has been living in New York City under a Publishing Fellowship at NYU. He just finished his program and now is on the job hunt with a beautiful resumé ready to go!

Mimi finished her first year of graduate school! With straight A’s, too! For the past month, she has been working at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, a residential treatment facility in Hyde Park for Youth. She absolutely loves her job and is revving up to start her second year field placement in August working in a Middle School and a Junior High School in the Northern Suburbs!

Francisco recently came home to Chicago for a little while and of course, Mimi picked him up from the airport to make this delicious meal!

Francisco assembled this GORGEOUS cheese and cracker platter:

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It includes: Crackers, Seedy Wheat Bread, Honey Goat Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Dried Cherries and Apricots, Slice Almonds, Homemade Jam

Then together, we produced this delicious salad: Image

The highlights include: Sautéed Butternut Squash, Mango Balsamic Glaze, and Golden Raisins.

We are doing well and eating well (to the best of our ability!) We will cook together (or on our own) very very soon!

As this post is being made, Francisco is conjuring up a “dream recipe” to share with you all!

Off to be more productive!

Love,

Mimi and Francisco

Vegetable and Herb Gardening

Me and my friend Esther, a fellow cook with a deep love for vegetables, decided to grow a vegetable and herb garden this summer.

Partly because we love vegetables, partly because we want to eat yummy fresh produce and use fresh herbs, and partly because it’s a great way to utilize our amazing mothering instincts.

Yesterday, we went to the Hyde Park Garden Fair and went a little bit wacko. We’re kind of out of control, but we are proud of it.

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We bought pots on pots on pots of vegetables and herbs, compost dirt, regular soil, and some gardening tools.

Here’s what we got:

Vegetables
– Spinach
– Red Tomatoes
– Yellow Tomatoes
– Cherry Tomatoes
– Brussels Sprouts
– Celery
– Onions
– Leeks

Herbs
– Sweet Basil
– Spicy Basil
– Chocolate Mint
– Cilantro
– Parsley
– Rosemary
– Thyme

Today, while gardening, we also met a new friend, Todd, a fellow gardener who shares the garden space. He let us use his watering can and he even gave us two Sweet Yellow Peppers to grow in our space!

We are utilizing a LOT of space. We didn’t realize just how much space we’d need until we assessed where everything should go yesterday afternoon. We originally started out with this plot where I’m sitting and soon realized, there’s NO WAY it would be enough room!

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Today, we cleared away and expanded into another plot! We also decided to pot some of our plants that we’d like to keep after we change apartments and we move to the Northside next year!

Here’s the progress we made this morning:

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This is plot number 1. Inside, we have onions, sweet basil, cilantro, spinach, thyme, big boy red tomato plant and cherry tomato plant

Then we did some potting..

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In the pots, we have all the rest of the tomato plants: big boy red tomatoes, golden boy yellow tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes! One of our golden boys got a little shocked by the whole potting process and a huge part of his branches snapped today and his leaves got all wilty. We’re holding out to see how he does after a couple of days in his new environment with the warm weather.

Next, we cleared away and started the new plot:

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On side 1 of the 2nd plot, we have a row of Brussels sprouts, a to-be planted parsley plant, and some golden self-blanching celery.

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Side two of Plot 2 features our sweet yellow peppers (thanks Todd!) And soon to be, the leeks! In the boxes, we have some herbs that we hope to pot and take with us after the summer: spicy basil, chocolate mint, and rosemary.

I gotta be honest, the chocolate mint is probably my favorite. It is incredibly fragrant and I can’t get enough of it!

We are loving the therapeutic nature of gardening! I love being able to tend to all of our little babies as they start to grow! Cannot wait for them to start producing delicious treats for us throughout the summer!

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I encourage everyone to go and enjoy this warm weather! Whether you are gardening, going for a long walk, or simply sitting outside with a glass of lemonade – go enjoy the sun! You deserve it!

Love,

Mimi

Ethiopian Diamond, Chicago, IL

It is VERY rare that there is a cuisine I’ve never tried before. I am an extremely adventurous eater and I never say no to a new opportunity!

This afternoon, I got to experience Ethiopian cuisine for the first time. I went to Ethiopian Diamond on Broadway in Edgewater with Erica, Kate, and Anna. While it seems like a little hole-in-the-wall place, it is SO worth it to head inside! You must try this place!

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We made sure to go all out. We ordered vegetarian sambusas, two veggie combos (we tried 6 out of the 7 options on the vegetarian list of watt & alicha), and a pot of Ethiopian tea.

Sambusas are very similar to Indian Samosas. They are fried and filled with all kinds of goodies. We tried the three different vegetarian types: Spinach, Potato and Carrot, and Whole Lentils served with a sweet sauce.

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Ethiopian food is eaten entirely with your hands. They serve it on a giant tray covered in these spongy flat breads called “injera” that are almost crepe-like and have a nice tangy taste.

Injera is a very symbolic aspect of the Ethiopian dining experience – eating the bread all from the same plate symbolizes the bonds of loyalty and friendship. It is especially encouraged that those eating from the same plate should express these bonds through “gursha” and feed each other different bites.

Atop the injera, they put different blobs of stewed goodness called “wat” or “alicha” (wat is spicy and alicha is mild) in different spots with a little salad in the center.

All of the foods we ordered were vegetarian. The restaurant states: “all vegetarian dishes are cooked in vegetable oil and contain no eggs, butter, milk, or honey!”

Specifically, we got (starting from the middle right and going counter-clockwise):

Yemisir Watt: Red lentils simmered with onions in a spicy homemade sauce.
Kik Alicha: Split peas cooked in a mild sauce of onion, garlic and ginger.
Quosta: Chopped spinach simmered in a mild sauce of onions and fresh garlic.
Tikel Gomen: Sliced cabbage and carrots cooked in a mild sauce.
Yatkilt Watt: String beans, carrots and potatoes cooked in a mild sauce of onions, garlic, ginger and Ethiopian spices.
Dinich Alicha: Potato cubes and carrots cooked in a mild sauce of onions, garlic, ginger and Ethiopian spices.

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Along with eating the breads that are the base of the platter, everyone also gets their own plate of a giant flatbread to scoop up those delicious tasty blobs.

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Overall, I’d say the first thing I thought of after my first bite was: “YUM! Whoa, mushy texture!” Everything is all stewed and so it’s all pretty gloopy, of course. Gotta be careful not to make too big of a mess. Luckily, Anna had her trust tide to-go stick!

All the different flavors were unique. Some had a nice spiced flavor while others were on the sweeter end.

I think my favorite of all the globs of “wat” and “alicha” would be the Yatkilt Watt. The different vegetables were extremely flavorful and cooked quite nicely, plus this wat had the most diverse textures. But all of us had different favorites!

To wash down our delicious meal, we also ordered a pot of Ethiopian tea which was a spicy chai-like tea. It was perfect to warm us up on this cold and rainy spring day after such a sunny and beautiful week.

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It was so thrilling to get Ethiopian food for the first time! I definitely would go back sooner rather than later, but I am SO stuffed. I highly recommend checking this place out! Next time, I definitely want to try “tibs” – which is usually a meat dish, but Ethiopian Diamond had two kinds that were veggie friendly: one was stewed pumpkin and the other was a stewed tofu dish and both were calling my name!

Here’s my happy face as a result of my first bite:

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Enough said!

Love,

Mimi

Sweet Potato Soup à la Goop

Hey, so, like Gywneth Paltrow’s last cookbook, I was on the waiting list at Monroe County Library just so that I can check it out and make fun of it. I was #18 on the list, and turns out it was so, so, totally worth it. IMG_1055 Look at how bad her hair looks. Anyway, the “cookbook” she “wrote” yielded a questionable number of  “recipes,” many of which had very few ingredients, many of which were things I learned to make after school (elementary school) when my mom wasn’t home to make a snack. They were also super duper “healthy.” And yea, here at Soups & Roots & Rants, we love healthy food, but not so much to the point of counter-functionality. The things her “doctor” restricts her from eating, for example: “no coffee, no alcohol, no dairy, no eggs, no sugar, no shellfish, no deepwater fish, no potatoes, no tomatoes, no bell pepper, no eggplant, no corn, no wheat, no meat, no soy, nothing processed at all.” The fuck? No tomatoes? Like, what can you “eat” then? This is the woman who brought us the delight of the “Oyster Po-Boy” in her last cookbook (which, I would like point out, is not only really gross, but is an oxymoron, as oysters are super fucking expensive, and Po’Boy is short for “Poor Boy”).

Because of her inclination toward boring, healthy “foods” with very few “ingredients,” we got lots more wonderful things like this “recipe” for avocado on toast: IMG_1057 Perhaps you’d like a hard-boiled egg? Well this NY Times best-selling author has got you covered. IMG_1062 Or there’s also this really cool recipe for wet almonds.

They’re vegan.IMG_1060 And unless you’ve forgotten how to make popcorn: IMG_1063 Here’s Goop on a Vespa, next to a cheesecake recipe. Very relevant. IMG_1059 Gweggs. IMG_1065 Alright, now that I’m done (not completely done) railing on Goop, I’d like to disclose with you that I did not find her cookbook totally useless. My friends across the street were real sick, and this recipe for a spicy sweet potato soup really caught my eye. I have altered it a little bit because I didn’t want to use chipotle pepper (it takes over everything), and I also had some Ras-al-Hanout from London that I wanted to get rid of. You should be able to find it in the bulk section of your local organic grocery store. Less spicy, more sweet. IMG_1049 2 T. olive oil
1 large red onion
2 garlic cloves
5 sprigs of cilantro
3/4 t. cumin
1 t. Ras-el-Hanout (galangal, rose petals, black peppercorns, ginger, cardamom, nigella, cayenne, allspice, lavender, cinnamon, cassia, coriander seeds, mace, nutmeg, cloves)
coarse sea salt
1/2 t. chili powder
2 large sweet potatoes (peeled & diced)
6 cups vegetable broth

Heat olive oil in a large stock pot, and then add onion, garlic, cilantro, cumin, and a heavy pinch of salt. Cook until the vegetables are softened, but not browned. IMG_1042 Toss in the potatoes, chili powder, Ras-al-Hanout until the potatoes are evenly coated. IMG_1054 Then pour in veggie broth and bring up to a boil. After it’s boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Once the potatoes are cooked, put it all in a blender. IMG_1067 It’s all good. Serve with sour cream and a sprig of cilantro.

Gwyn is great at making recipes with 2 ingredients or less, but I here at Soups & Roots, we always try and bulk up our recipes to bring out the maximum spice level. Next time you’re cooking, think: What Would Gwyn Do? (WWGD) And then do the opposite of that.

Love, Fran

Cantina Laredo, Chicago, IL

This afternoon, I went downtown for lunch with my mom at a restaurant called Cantina Laredo, a modern Mexican restaurant. It is actually a chain with many different locations around the US.

This location is 508 N. State Street in Chicago, IL:


The food was absolutely amazing. We started out with tortilla chips, salsa, and a table-side serving of guacamole.

 
The guacamole cart had all kinds of different ingredients including: cilantro, lime, red onion, tomatoes, and an assortment of peppers ranging from mild to spicy. The avocados were perfectly ripe and the guacamole just melted in your mouth.

Mom ordered the fish special of the day which was a Grilled Salmon topped with chimichurri and served over cilantro rice.


The salmon was perfectly cooked, seasoned well and very moist. Plus, the rice was extremely flavorful!

I had the Enchilada de Avocado, an avocado and artichoke enchilada served with a jicama and mango salad.


The enchilada was cheesy, rich, and absolutely what I wanted. I loved the avocado and artichoke mix and the jicama salad was a crisp & refreshing side.

I really enjoyed this lunch and the entire atmosphere of the restaurant. I highly recommend checking it out!

 
Love,

Mimi

 

How to make your own Pumpkin Puree

It’s a lot easier than you’d think.

Pick out a pumpkin that is rich in color and free of mold. Mine came pre-wrapped, as a quarter of the monster was plenty enough for one dude. Though the squash I had was definitely a jack-o-lantern pumpkin, I’d recommend a pie pumpkin or a sugar loaf pumpkin, which is not only sweeter in taste, but finer in texture, rather than all intestine-like.

All the instructions I read through told me to just cut large slices and set them onto the pan after coating in canola oil. Set at 400° and bake for 30 minutes, like this:

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I dissent, however, and I think that maybe those handling the pumpkin were too lazy to get through the shell, when in reality, the pumpkin would have cooked faster if cut into sizeable chunks. After an hour of baking it the WRONG way, I could see a large center of uncooked pumpkin flesh and proceeded to cut it up like this:

I had to set aside the pieces that were completely cooked through, and continue to cook the bigger pieces. If they’re all cooked through, the skin will peel right off of the flesh, and you can carve that good stuff out into a food processor. Blend, add water if it’s not chopping up, and cinnamon, if you’re me. It’ll look just like Libby’s! Sorry for the bad picture.

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Love, Fran

The Borough Market, alternatively titled, “The Farmer’s Nirvana”

So it appears that Mimi and I are in competition with each other to see who can produce the most / best posts until we are reunited at Christmas. Let the games begin, because I have a good one right here.

The Borough Market, located near Southwark (pronounced Suth-erk”), London, may be the greatest market experience I will have in my lifetime. It takes place underneath a series of railway viaducts, so it truly is a borough by definition. The website also expands:

“Borough has long been synonymous with food markets and as far back as 1014, and probably much earlier, London Bridge attracted traders selling grain, fish, vegetables and livestock. In the 13th century traders were relocated to what is now Borough High Street and a market has existed there ever since.

In 1755, the market was closed by Parliament, but a group of Southwark residents raised £6,000 to buy a patch of land known locally as The Triangle, once the churchyard of St Margaret’s, and reopened the market. The Triangle, where you’ll find Northfield Farm and Furness Fish and Game, is still at the heart of the market today.”

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What an amazing little patch of history. The Borough Market comprises three smaller markets, some of which operate only certain days of the week. I went on Saturday, however, which is one of the days the full market operates, spanning over three blocks.

The market offers fruit & vegetables, bread & cheese, fish & meat, and supplies other goods from hundreds of different vendors. These were my favorites.

This is called raclette. 

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Raclette is both the type of cheese and the method of the dish, coming from the french verb racler, which means “to scrape.” A wedge of cheese is heated upside-down in a hot iron until the top begins to melt and bubble. Then, the cheese was scraped off, onto a pile of potatoes and roasted vegetables. Godly.

These are some artisan sausages that I ALMOST broke a 4-year vegetarianism for.

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This is a variety of gourmet salts which you could try with tomatoes they were sampling. My palette couldn’t quite taste the differences between a few of them, but I did enjoy “The Caviar of Salts.” Note the label.Image

This is every type of Turkish Delight known to man.

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The ones that I tried were pistachio, cocoa, rose petals, cinnamon, orange, lemon, pomegranate, toasted almond, strawberry, and coconut? I think there were others I’m forgetting.

Then there were the mushroom ladies. They were expensive! Though the chantarelles were cheap compared to what I’d pay for at Kroger.

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Then the lettuce people.

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The tomato people.

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The seafood aficionados. Note the blowfish.

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The prosciutto carvers, fresh from the leg.

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Every kind of bread you would ever want.

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My favorite favorite, the GIANT vats of paella. This particular one was thai green curry, though the most popular was grilled chorizo with fresh clams. The line was loooooong.

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And this guy did dried fruits and nuts. Pineapples, dates, figs, apricots, mangos, cherries, honeyed macadamia nuts, cocoa-dusted almonds, spicy cashews, and chocolate-covered basically everything.

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Sarah Jo, Molly, and I got pies! One was a red-wine spinach & mushroom pie. The other was chicken, bacon, & vermouth. My fave though, was called “The Pietanic,” which was a fish pie.

If you’re wondering what I purchased, the answer is:

1 striped aubergine
1 banana shallot
4 purple potatoes
an aged belper knolle
4 figs
2 ears of corn
2 weird-looking heirloom tomatoes
a french olive oil rosemary loaf
1 brogdale apple
a quarter of a giant pumpkin (prewrapped)
1 brandy raspberry truffle (which I ate immediately)
crème caramel that came in a jar!

and a farcelette! ImageWhich are wraps of  various other spices to put in stews and whatnot. Apparently its a Spanish version of bouqet garni, but I have no idea whats in there other than bay leaves, because the woman spoke mostly French.

Also, I made friends with this guy from Rennes who ran a pastry stand outside my school, and he told me to come to Borough Market and visit him! I did, and he remembered me, and he gave me a huge brownie for free!

And thats my Borough Market adventure.

How to Conquer a Coconut

Alright, so you were feeling ballsy/in a spur of the moment/drunk in the grocery store and decided to buy a coconut. Fear not. Here’s how you open it and unleash its heavenly bounty.

Before we get started, you should know that the coconut is not a nut at all. It’s actually a fruit, specifically, it is a drupe. The same botanical category.

To drain out the coconut water, use a wine bottle opener. Stick the pointy end into soft hole and drill into it, pulling the end out like you would the cork of a wine bottle. Tip the water out into a cup and set aside for soup, smoothie, cooking beverage. The hole will be so small that your water will dribble out, so you’ll have to shake it a bit.

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Opening the coconut is no big thing. Blogs will prescribe to you a special coconut-opening tool, a serrated edge, the blunt side of a knife, but DON’T LISTEN.

The best way to go about it is as a squirrel would a nut. Go outside, find a sharp, concrete or metal surface on the ground, preferably cornered. Take the coconut in your palm, equator-side facing downward and smash the coconut onto the corner. Voilà!

To toast it, shave the inside using a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Toss these shavings into a baking sheet or a frying pan with cinnamon, salt, or sugar depending on how you want ’em. Yummerdoodle.

Love,
Fran

Autumn is coming…

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Well, it’s official. Francisco has made it safely to London and I am moving into my new apartment in Hyde Park on Saturday. The school year is making its way here and you know what that means?

Autumn is coming!

This is my absolute favorite season. Not just because of the sweaters, the leaf jumping and crunching, and fashionable boots. It means here comes some of my favorite seasonal fruits and vegetables.

What is in season you ask? To name a few..

Fruits: 

Coconut, Cranberries, Pomegranate, and Pears

Vegetables:

Broccoli, Kale, Parsnips, Squash, Pumpkin, and Sweet Potatoes

It also is the season where it is more socially acceptable to eat soup all of the time. And trust me, I plan to.

Yes, we will have to say good bye until next year to our crisp salads chockfull of fresh berries, our flip-flops (most of us anyway), razorback tanks, and shaved ice from Tropical Sno.

But, we say hello to recipes such as acorn squash lasagna, my autumnal ratatouille, and so much more.

So as summer dies down and the cool winds begin to pick up, it’s a time for beginnings for Francisco and me. I am starting my first year of grad school and he’s off conquering the UK. Wish us luck! We’ll need it!

But don’t worry, we still have to eat and so we’ll be cooking! Until then, happy eating!

Much love,

Mimi

Calafia Café, Palo Alto, CA

This week, I went on a little vacation with my cousin Leslie to visit my sister Jenny in Palo Alto, California. Being the foodies that we are, we’ve tried all sorts of restaurants in the bay area from a stand selling clam chowder in a bread bowl to a fast-casual grilled cheese & soup place.

My favorite meal so far has been at Calafia Café right here in Palo Alto. This amazing vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurant is prepared by the former executive chef from Google Inc., Charlie Ayers. Touting the slogan, “Slow food served fast,” this gorgeous restaurant provides two incredible menus for vegheads as well as meat eaters and I am telling you, this place does not disappoint for either side.

We started our meal with the Papas Con Ajo. Described as crispy shoestring fries tossed with garlic, parsley, and Calafia spice blend served with Special Red Sauce #1 (Calafia’s homemade ketchup)

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They are heavily seasoned, smokey and bursting with flavor. The best part is definitely the crisp garlic tossed on top.

Next, we shared the Burrata & Potato Pizza. This pizza is topped with roasted zucchini, rosemary, garlic confit, nutty burrata cheese, roasted Yukon gold potatoes.

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The rosemary and burrata cheese was a perfect marriage of flavors. The crust was a good mix of crunchy and doughy.

Jenny’s favorite dish at this restaurant and one that she has trouble straying from is the Big Bowl of Beef Chow Mein.

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Definitely not vegetarian, this dish contains marinated hanger steak, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, cabbage, udon noodles, and veal stock.

Leslie had the Halibut Special. Halibut filet steamed in a white wine butter sauce topped with pesto and served over an assortment of clams and oysters.

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As the waiter described it, no starch included, just great seafood on a plate and he wasn’t kidding. Les absolutely loves seafood so the special of the evening was right up her alley.

As an additional side dish to her halibut, Leslie ordered the Grilled Asparagus Salad.

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Served with baby frisee, radishes, lemon olive oil vinaigrette. The flavors worked like magic next to her halibut. The lemon had just the right amount of citrus that the whole salad just tasted fresh.

And of course, I save the best for last. My entrée was Lexi’s French Lentil Bowl. Green French lentils, sautéed spinach, roasted yams, roasted crimini mushrooms, simmered in a yellow curry cream sauce with quinoa pilaf.

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Chosen per the waiter’s recommendation, this dish had a great blend of sweet and savory combining the yams and the crimini mushrooms atop the perfectly cooked lentils.

For dessert, we had the Strawberry Rhubarb Galette as well as the Chocolate Ginger Cake.

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Yes, they were as good as the look. Enough said.

Not only was the food delicious, Calafia had wonderful service and a great atmosphere. All ingredients are sourced locally and organically as often as possible. It’s times like these that I wished I lived in California. Cannot wait to go back to this fantastic restaurant.

Mimi