Sweet Potato & Black Bean Rice Bowls

What is the slacker girl going to do about packing lunch for a day job? This is where the concept of the “bowl” fits perfectly into my life.  First, because calling anything you eat a “rice bowl” or a “noodle bowl” makes it instantly a fancy meal prepared by someone trained in the culinary arts (lies I tell myself.) Second, it takes only one night of preparation for everything to be assembled all week. Then you can eat one portion for dinner the night you make it–rice bowl with beer in front of an office marathon, oh la la!– and pack away the rest with for the week.

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Rice Bowls

Ingredients:

3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
two tablespoons of olive oil
tablespoon or so of chili powder + a teaspoon of cumin + teaspoon smoked paprika
two cans of black beans either seasoned from a can (no shame, the traders joe’s kind are the best) or prepared however you like it.
2 cups of corn (I love the roasted frozen corn from Trader Joes)
1 container of cherry tomatoes ( about two or so cups)
1 small red onion, diced
1/2 of a jalapeño pepper, minced
1/2 cup of roughly chopped cilantro
2 limes
cooked rice
minced cilantro or parsley

to garnish:
extra limes, cheese, yogurt or sour cream, avocado slices, salsa, hot sauce, more cilantro, salt & pepper

Directions:

1. Roast the sweet potato cubes olive oil and spices on a cookie sheet. I cook at 400 for about 20 minutes, tossing a few times. I like to roast until the edges are crispy. Salt and pepper the cubes to taste. Set aside.

2. Prepare black beans by either heating up your favorite pre-seasoned beans or trying the my method: I take 2 cans of black beans (rinsed and drained) then fry them in a little olive oil + cumin + salt + lime juice.  You could also add garlic and minced onion as you are quickly frying or try other spices. Set aside.

3. Prepare the tomato-corn salsa in a bowl: add 1 container of cherry tomatoes that have been cut in half (removing some of the seeds as you cut) with 1 small minced red onion, 1/2 a jalapeño pepper, 1/2 cup of cilantro (if you don’t like cilantro try parsley) with the juice of two limes and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

4. Cook some rice. Yep, that simple. What I like to do is a use a white nutty basmati rice but add extra lime juice and minced cilantro.

5. Prepare the bowls by pretty much just simply layering rice-sweet potatoes-black beans-salsa plus anything you want as an addition. I store all the ingredients separately but then prepare for lunches the night before during the week.

 

Style: Mermaids

mermaids inspired life

Is there anything better than Cher, Winona, and Christina Ricci in the 1990′s film Mermaids? The answer is no. Charlotte Flax’s misplaced Catholicism meets Cher’s marshmallow cooking is all I ever need. Plus bouffants. I’m basing my spring style off the film.

Notes on a Philly Weekend

 

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You can get to Philadelphia from New York City quite easily.  This was the best kind of surprise for me because I live for weekend trips and I’m obsessed with riding new Amtrak lines all over the East Coast. This time it was the Keystone. One more checked off the Amtrak life goal list!

The journey was only an hour and a half from Penn Station in Manhattan. We packed backpacks like children, hoped onto an early train, and emerged into Philly in time for a second breakfast. The beauty was that the March Saturday morning we planned for was beyond pleasant. We didn’t even attempt a city subway or bus; we just started walking straight into the city. We stayed in the best deal (aka cheapest) hotel we could find in the very walkable City Center neighborhood. We walked the entire morning until we could check in. My feet hurt by the end of the day.

We went Reading Terminal Market, a requisite on the blog guides but which far surpassed my expectations for a tourist destination. Though we ate giant crepes after walking each row of stalls, it seemed that everyone wanted one of those fabulous looking Amish donuts. If I had been more up for waiting in a line, I would have scored one.

From the market, we traversed the inner garden of the monolithic City Hall, which reminded me of imposing 19th century European government buildings, like the Brussels Palais de Justice in Brussels. The Love Sign and the iconic steps on the Philadelphia Museum of Art beckoned visually on the horizon, directing us to walk outwards to Fairmont Park arts area.

In search of a bathroom, we stopped on our path to the museums at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Noticing that we were leaving soon after arriving, a curious security guard asked us what we were looking for at the library. Realizing we were just wandering nomads, he told us about the free rare books collection galleries at the top of the library, instructing us to first look around at the Roman ceiling before ringing the bell. It a serendipitous discovery: there was a Shakespeare exhibit on view, a bevy of early books and first editions to look at, alongside framed illustrations and a collection of beautiful towering grand father clocks.

We debated between The Barnes Foundation and The Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the later winning just based on short duration of our trip. The Museum was fantastic though: the collection of early Christian artifacts and the Japanese Ceremonial Teahouse  were two of my favorite exhibits. I also came across painting by Edna Andrade in one of the American galleries that have stayed with me; her 60′s palate and geometric precision is hypnotic.

That night it was harder to decide on a place to eat and drink since we had unknowingly planned a weekend trip during the revelry of St Patrick’s day parade. But it easy to find cheap Indian food and a fairly empty wine bar, both of which I deduced would be less crowded by the gaggle of green clad parties. We spent time in the evening roaming around the Walnut Street shopping district and people watched in Rittenhouse Square.

The second day we took ourselves on self guided tours of all the pretty and old federal style neighborhoods with row houses and parks galore. First though, we ate not one but two donuts from Federal Donuts. I could live on those alone I think. Society Hill was particularly beautiful and picturesque. We spent some time in this small but historic cemetery which revolutionary war era simple graves. Being iconoclast tourists, we walked past the general area of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall but instead set out walking path out for Race Street Pier which combined my love of rivers and bridges so perfectly I had to take a brief nap on the pier after meeting the Delaware River for the first time.

We had a hearty brunch at Khyber Pass, where I had this out of this world southern style brisket hash. I window shopped at ScoutVagabond, and this used-bookstore-meets-antique-store, aptly named Books & Antiques, that appealed to the inner pack rat in me hardcore.

Before leaving from 30th Street station we backtracked so I could make it to a shop I’ve been obsessing over from a far: Omoi Zakka Shop. It’s a bit like a long time favorite in Massachusetts, Black Ink, but with more Japanese Imports. I gushed with the very delightful owner how much I love  calendars and paper goods, no matter how internet obsessed with my life becomes. I bought an awesome desk calendar on sale–always buy your calendars a few months into the new year people–and some pretty Japanese masking tape.

We had a quick coffee at Plenty, missed a chance visit an independent bookstore Joseph Fox because we were traveling on Sunday (for another time) and headed home on an evening train to remerge in New York City.

I’m sure I missed a lot of Philly since we just stayed downtown. Next time,  I’ll get farther out.  And I think I’ll call these trips part of a Amtrak nomad life weekend life, so look for more!

 

 

Reading lately

Walk the stretch of Church Avenue in Brooklyn from the B/Q Church station to the F/G Church station, preferably on a weekend or during the evening rush hour. You will pass a Golden Krust, an Islamic center, a Mexican hole-in-the-wall that sometimes advertises tamales via hand-written sign, a West Indian place, a synagogue, a halal market, Polish meat markets, a place that advertises tax preparation in several Eastern European languages and a couple of Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi markets. You will pass Orthodox Jews in those black hats, women in hijab, women in saris, dudes in track suits, neighbors calling across the street to each other, parents herding a gaggle of parka’d children toward the bus.

What to Do If You’re Falling Out of Love With New York.

Oh hey, I happen to live off this street! Words to live by, maybe not only just for still loving NYC.

Moving – Antwerp

(Moving Antwerp from New Impact on Vimeo.)

I was in Antwerp for only a handful of hours this past summer, taking a train from Bruges on a whim after a very helpful train worker switched our tickets for the cheapest possible rate before we ultimately had to return to Brussels.

Once we got off the train we marveled at the old meets new station, which looks like it’s been futuristically cross cut in time. The station reminded me of something out of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film, giving the city that kind of hue while I was there. From there we walked the old part of the city, sitting in Grotte Markt with a large tourist group of football players, eating pizza the funny Italian way, and wandering into a beautiful church with ruins ravaged by fire. Before going back, we walked up to the top of the contemporary art museum for free. The museum was closed but you could still traverse the escalator floor by floor to an open roof, taking a panorama of the city that is both old and modern with a still working port.

I only saw the city then for a moment, when I was also tired from walking and ready to hit a hotel room bed, but it has stayed on my mind.

Cooking Without Recipes: Chickpea-Tomato Soup, Several Ways


chickpeasoupWhen I consider about what I enjoy about cooking, it always comes down to the pleasure of  becoming familiar with spice and flavor, the ability to cook without recipes yet to achieve what you want in the end.

The first time I set out to make pasta sauce, in a college dorm kitchen nonetheless, I remember vividly dumping the cheapest can of tomatoes into a shallow pan on the stove and thinking: just how do I make this taste the way I want it toI had no idea at the time of course, no familiarity with garlic, with the browning of  onions, or the debate about the many ways to cut acidity in tomatoes with something sweet, with something fatty. I owned no cookbooks. I didn’t yet know that I loved food blogs and journalism, or the personal empowerment of cooking well for myself.  At that moment, stirring cans tomatoes with no direction, all I could muster was add in a few pinches of dried herbs.  It was just me alone with unseasoned tomatoes, masquerading as sauce. Yet I ate those warmed up tomatoes on basic boiled pasta, as a college girl is want to do, all the while with the question of how does one actually cook already circulating in my brain. 

It wasn’t until a few years later that I began tasting with purpose, in the search of what makes dishes  exactly as how you want them to. I started asking all the right questions when I cooked: What is the relationship of depth of flavor by the process at which you add to a dish? How do you spice according to the final meal’s flavor profile to get the perfectly matched meal?

That absolutely basic idea–how do I make this taste the way I expect it tois what keeps me interested in learning to cook ever since I tried to make that can of tomatoes into something glorious but failed. 

So in the spirit of cooking without recipes and with the accumulated knowledge of spice and flavor, one of my favorite free dishes is a simple chickpea-tomato soup. It’s a favorite because you can style the basic recipe any which way but simply changing the flavor profile of the spices used. Below I feature the rough basics of the recipe. You can easily adjust and change the portions of the ingredients. Following the instructions are outlines for suggestions in changing the flavor profile to be inspired by the varied cuisines I cook the most from. Nothing is meant to approximate so-called authenticity in cooking–a debate for another time whether food is ever authentic–but meant as a guideline to discovering how a set of spices evoke different tastes and food practices.

 

Chickpea-Tomato Soup with Greens, Several Ways 
Serves 4-6

The Basic Ingredients:

A 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes (drained)
One can of chickpeas (or the equivalent in cooked chickpeas.)
A diced onion, carrot, and celery stalk (you’re at home, no one cares but you if it’s finely diced or not, let’s get real.)
a few tablespoons of olive oil
a clove of garlic, mashed or minced or cut to your heart’s desires
around 4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (secret, add water if you need more, I always cheat and do this.)
a few handfuls of greens, roughly chopped or ripped by hand and rinsed/dried a few slices

The Basic Process:

1. In a large soup pot, heat up the olive oil and brown the onion, celery, carrot. Add in any additions.  Then add the garlic.

2. Add in spices.

3. Stir until brown.

4. Add in the drained tomatoes, chickpeas, and broth. Bring to a boil. Add in the greens until wilted. Add in any additions. Reduce to a simmer and cook a few more minutes more to meld the flavors. Adjust cooking time if you are adding in any additions that require more cooking.

5. Eat with garnishes. Also salt and pepper to taste.

The Several Ways:

Feel free to pick and choose from the suggestions to tailor this soup to each flavor profile.

North African Inspired: Spices–add in a tablespoon of cumin, a few teaspoons of cinnamon, a pinch of ground ginger, some heat from cayenne if you’re daring, and a bit of fresh lemon juice. Additions– add in a grain like couscous or rice with the broth, cooking until done if grain is uncooked, or roasted cubes of eggplant at the broth stage. Garnishes–pickled vegetables, raisins, olives, plain yogurt, and  parsley/cilantro. Try with toasted pitas or flat breads.

Mediterranean Inspired: Spices– add in a teaspoon of dried rosemary, oregano, thyme each, and a bay leaf, plus a pinch of red pepper flakes. Additions– try with more cloves of garlic, three or four, browned with the onions. Add in slices of  fennel,  in the step when you brown the onions, or rice or pasta when you add the broth, cooking until done if grain is uncooked. Try adding a Parmesan rind for a richer broth too. Garnishes–fresh grated Parmesan cheese or feta, stir in pesto or kalamata tapenade into each bowl. Try with toasted pitas, Italian bread, or seasoned croutons.

Spanish Inspired: Spices– add a tablespoon or two of a good smoked paprika, a pinch of saffron threads, a few pinches of cayenne. Additions– add browned chorizo sausage when browning the onions and garlic with spices or frying extra chickpeas at this stage with more olive oil.  Try with cubed potatoes at the broth stage, adjust liquid quantity and cooking time to ensure doneness. Garnishes–extra olive oil, toasted bread, fried garlic, slivered almonds, large Spanish olives stuffed with garlic.

Indian Inspired: Spices– add a half tablespoon of cumin, either a curry powder or garam masala, plus a few pinches of coriander and ginger and add a bit of fresh lemon juice. Additions– You can add a cup of coconut milk as well as a cup of cut up potatoes or cauliflower when you add the broth, cooking longer to ensure doneness. Garnishes–top with cilantro and yogurt mixed with mint and cucumber. Try with a flat bread or pita.

Mexican and Southwestern Inspired: Spices– add a tablespoon of cumin, a teaspoon to tablespoon of chili powder depending on your liking of heat. Additions– add a cup or two of cubed sweet potatoes, cooked or uncooked quinoa when you add the broth, adjusting cooking time for doneness of the grain,  beer or brewed coffee with some of the coffee in replace of some of the broth or in addition to. Garnishes– top with shredded cheese, avocado slices, sour cream/yogurt, with scallions or cilantro. Try with tortilla chips. 

 

 

 

Movie Sounds: The Her Soundtrack

I finally saw Spike Jonze’s epic Sci-Fi romance Her. I loved it way more than I expected to. On reading a plot summary of a movie about a man falling in love with a female operating system, I just didn’t think it would be my cup of tea. Yet I found the movie beautiful, profoundly feminist, smartly plotted, wonderfully sci-fi, and also awesomely scored. Turns out, you can’t get the soundtrack for Her just yet but I’ve been tracking down what I can find. Above is the haunting Karen O Moon song and the Arcade Fire’s Super Symmetry. Below is a user generated Spotify playlist for the movie. Side note, I love that Spotify allows this crowd-sourcing of mixes. I really want to hear all the scores by Arcade Fire but I suppose I’ll just have to wait, as they promise it will be available sometime soon.