Tacos de Carnitas + Sangría Roja


A lot has happened since I've been away.

I graduated. I showed New Hampshire and my big crazy family to Jimmy for the first time. I traveled to Nice, Genoa, Bologna, Siena, and London over three weeks. I ate a lot of wonderful, wonderful food. I got tan. I found my new home in Washington, D.C.

Trafalgar Square, London, with Jimmy

And now, with only a week left until I move and start my new job, I feel very ready, nervous, and sad to leave Chicago. I resisted calling it home for a long time, even after my parents moved here from New Hampshire, and even after I started living in an apartment -- but when I was traveling this past month and asked where I was from, Chicago was the first place on my lips.

I hated that, because Hudson was my home in a way Chicago never was and no other place will ever be again. That's fine, though. I'm able to call Chicago home just as I'm about to leave it, and maybe there's something poetic about that. Or maybe I'm just feeling grossly sentimental. I'm not sure that I would feel the same way if Jimmy weren't staying in Chicago, but it really hit me this morning that this is happening -- that this time I'm the one moving, and even though we'll see each other much more frequently than we did when he was in Chile, it's still hard to say goodbye. We've gotten very used to saying goodbye to each other at airports. I hate that too.

I have another week left, though, and so I can't be too sad or try to buy too many things for the new apartment on Amazon yet. I've been on a pie and galette-making spree, with the sour cherry pie from summer's past turning out deliciously yet again and one peach galette turning out much better than the other (I made the crust too wet when it was grossly humid out here, never again!). We also made an enchiladas verdes recipe from Rick Bayless but with an improvised cremini mushroom, zucchini, and black bean filling spiced with cumin, coriander, chili powder, and oregano. Last week I made tilapia ceviche with the usual lime and cilantro, but also added fresh ginger and it was pretty amazing. And let's not forget these tacos de carnitas that we made last night, improvised using the New York Times cooking blog's recipe. They turned out so, so well, especially served with pickled radishes, avocado, and cilantro. They made an excellent dinner last night, and dare I say even better lunch today? Also this sangría roja, which Jimmy and I first improvised for my graduation party, is super delicious. I imagine I'll be making it fairly often to survive the D.C. heat, which my body is certainly not ready for.

Tacos de Carnitas

3-4 pound pork shoulder, marbled with lots of yummy fat (mine was about 4 pounds)
1 1/2+ teaspoons salt
1-3 teaspoons dried oregano, to taste
1 large orange, zested
1 large onion, sliced
4+ garlic cloves sliced, depending on your taste
1 bottle Negra Modelo or other dark beer
3 chipotles in adobo, with a couple spoonfuls of sauce
1 large Mexican cinnamon stick, or 2 small regular ones
2 bay leaves
1 ounce very dark chocolate, whatever you have on hand

Trim any large, thick pieces of fat from the pork shoulder. Break it down into 1-inch cubes and add them to a pot, preferably a cast iron Dutch oven. Toss the meat with the oregano, orange zest, and salt to coat, then add the remaining ingredients except for the chocolate. Add enough water to cover the pork, then simmer over medium-low heat (depending on your stove) for about 2 hours. Skim any foam that forms on the top every 20 minutes or so, and add water as needed to keep the pork covered. 

Start checking around 1 1/2 hours for doneness: the pieces of pork should be breaking down and yield very easily to being pressed. Turn up the heat to allow the liquid to boil down and become a lovely sauce. If you're afraid that the meat will become overcooked, depending on how much liquid you have left to boil off, remove the meat and then reduce the liquid. You want to have enough liquid to keep the pork moist but not so much that it's soupy -- I probably left a half cup of liquid. As the liquid boils off, shred the pork (you can use 2 forks for this, but honestly I just pressed mine with my spoon and it fell apart easily). Add in the chocolate and let it cook for a couple minutes with the meat.

Remove the cinnamon stick(s) and bay leaves. Serve with warm corn tortillas and your desired condiments. 

Sangría Roja

1 large bottle of red wine
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
3/4 cup apple cider or natural apple juice
1/2 cup apple brandy (you could use regular brandy instead but that's what we had)
1/3 cup simple syrup, or to taste
Sliced fruit (oranges work especially well because they soak up the sangria)

Stir liquids to combine. Add in the fruit and serve over ice. I recommend letting the fruit marinate in the sangria for a couple of hours before serving if possible.

Cauliflower, Potato, + Green Pea Dhal with Naan

I did not used to be a fan of curry. By which I mean, I thought it smelled like feet, and thus tasted like feet. Sorry, turmeric. You're kind of smelly. But, then I realized that there was a world beyond yellow curries. Red curry and I have had a lasting romance ever since (bless you, duck curry from the Snail), and now I have a solid relationship with green curry (protip: put some green curry powder in your lentil soup, it's magical). I've slowly come around to liking the flavor of yellow curry, but am still not super into the typical yellow curry coconut broth that you find at Thai restaurants... I think it's something about the turmeric-coconut combination. Anyway, my weird food opinions aside (still not down with green bell peppers, but that's a story for another day), yellow curry now has its special place in my heart, and has warmed me up to turmeric more generally.

So when I saw this cauliflower, potato, + green pea dhal on Flourishing Foodie, it looked so good that I had to make it. I was still feeling a little hesitant about the turmeric, but since it was combined with garam masala, green peas, and cilantro, I couldn't possibly refuse. I think I'll be making this all spring and summer long (in fact, I just made another batch for this week, and added some fennel). I made whole wheat naan to go along with it, using this recipe from the New York Times' cooking blog and subbing in white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose. They turned out a little tougher than I wanted, but still tasty. I guess that's what I get for messing with a recipe that I'd never made before, but I just slathered on some avocado and was good to go.

Tonight I'm going to try my hand at this raw + vegan chunky monkey ice cream because I'm curious and have lots of frozen bananas, but I'm just going to use bittersweet chocolate because I'm a heathen and don't feel like sourcing cacao nibs right now (so it won't be raw, whatever). I also made vegetable wontons that I'll post about in the coming week, and am looking forward to sitting outside in the finally seasonal warmth eating this Niçoise salad. I am determined to make this week totally awesomely excellent, especially because I have finally, finally finished my honors thesis (!!!!!). Only 27 days until graduation, but who's counting?

Happenings + End-of-the-Week Fridge Meals

Hello friends, it's a busy time, as you might imagine. I've been neglecting writing here mostly because I haven't felt that I've had anything thoughtful to write. The days come and go like waves. I finish my assignments, read some for my magical realism course and psychology courses, take a bike ride, and go to sleep. It's been peaceful in way, despite taking a full course load and finishing my honors thesis, but laced with the feeling that there is something more that I should, could, want to be doing, something dissatisfying beneath the surface. I know much of it is wrapped up in my impatience for my new life, as it were, to start. I've been so ready to be done being a student, to find my new apartment, to have said apartment all to myself, to start my new job, to feel like I'm a real adult in a way that I can't as a college student. Even though I know nothing will go as smoothly as I imagine it will, that living alone in a new city, being in a long distance relationship again, and adjusting to a new job for which I clearly have the skills but not the content knowledge will all be difficult, I am still ready. I have been ready for a long time. And now I am impatient, because time has to pass in the way that it does, slowly and out of my control. Yes, of course I am excited for end of college shenanigans, for graduating, for traveling, but I have to wait for all of those things too.

Why can't you relax, you weirdo? Why can't you just be happy? Why do you have to be so impatient? I have asked myself all of these questions, too. Impatience is a part of who I am. It makes me ambitious, but can also make me dissatisfied. I like to think that I have a good balance of feeling impatient for the new and content with the present: I enjoy being alone at home with my books and cooking and quiet; I like commitment and rules and order. But psychoanalysis isn't very scientific, and especially not when one is psychoanalyzing oneself, so maybe I'm not as balanced as I think I am. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I'm not someone who identifies as a thrill-seeker or someone bound by instant gratification. While I have dreams and aspirations just like the next person, I seem to feel more discontent about not being able to reach those things right now. Granted, this makes me unafraid of commitment or of becoming a grump (watch Star Trek TOS for that reference), but also makes me less able to enjoy being a college student who messes things up in the way young, inexperienced people do.

But this is a cooking and food blog after all, so now that I've gotten my internal monologue out on paper (screen?), let us turn to food. I've been cooking a lot, but not anything that I've felt super compelled to take pictures of. I've been trying to be more budget and diet friendly, now that it's spring (or trying to be spring - Chicago is distinctly not out of its post-winter phase yet) and I don't need to hunker down with carbs stuffed with carbs and cheese plus a warm brownie to feel human again at the end of the day (although I'm not opposed). I've been cooking more like I used to at home, in high school, when I was vegetarian and using more grains and vegetables. I've also been perfecting the art of the end-of-the-week-fridge meal, i.e. the night before you plan to grocery shop again for the week and you are like, wow, what is all this crap and what am I going to make with it for dinner?? Last week I pulled together a hummus, fried egg, roasted zucchini, lettuce-herb salad, and lentils with red curry paste and soy sauce pita pocket that was super delicious. Pictured below is a couscous salad with roasted red cabbage, onion, dried apricots, and parsley with roasted broccoli and spiced chickpeas, out of which I got several meals. It's amazing what you can do with an almost empty fridge.

Finnish Cinnamon Rolls

It's spring break here in Chicago. It's also been snowing throughout the week. Gross. Today at least the sky was bright and sunny, but I still had to bundle up against the wind. No lake-side frolicking for me just yet. I made these beautiful little cinnamon rolls a few weeks ago when I was in school stress mode, but I may have to make them again if it's going to stay chilly like this (and as my thesis deadline approaches). 

For now, though, I'm mostly relaxed, after spending an excellent weekend with my cousin Sydney and hunkering down at my favorite coffee shops throughout the week. Sydney and I spent a too-short day and a half exploring downtown Chicago, making fun of our parents (as only loving children do), and eating our way around the city. We visited the Art Institute first before making our way along the Mag Mile to take a few selfies at the Bean and stop into Eataly for lunch. We had an early dinner at Lou Malnati's (after a little shopping spree of course), then headed back to Hyde Park for some more wandering, 57th Street Books, and Sabrina at my apartment. We ate at Valois the next morning with Jimmy before she flew home again, back to being a star softball player and fabulous student. I miss her very much.

Next weekend, though, it'll be my turn to travel. Friends, soon I shall be visiting the bustling metropolis of Fort Worth, Texas! I'll be spending Easter with the Steele-McDonough clan, eating lots of delicious food and hopefully getting a little sculling in with my favorite doubles partner. I've never been to Texas before, so this will be exciting, and maybe I'll get some cowboy boots if I'm feeling fancy. Pictures to come!

Also 10/10 would recommend binge watching New Girl and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt with all of your free hibernation time before classes start again. Especially if you too are procrastinating writing your thesis (I'm looking at you fellow fourth years). I've also been reading The Master and Margarita again over break, in English this time, in preparation for a class on magical realism in Russia and Southeastern Europe. I'll be taking the class on top of a full load of psychology courses that I need to graduate, but I think it'll be worth it.

The My Blue & White Kitchen blog is acting up (it's asking me for a password to enter for some reason?), so I unfortunately don't have the recipe to post (or to use in the future *sobs*). If I figure out what's going on with the site I'll add the link in. They're basically cinnamon rolls that have a lot of ground cardamom in the dough, so they taste deliciously reminiscent of a chai latte, and in place of frosting they have pearl sugar sprinkled over the top before baking. They are glorious indeed.

Chocolate Cake

Hey kids, I'm back. And I have cake.

I know every quarter I say wow, I have a lot of stuff to do, lemme tell you how stressed I am, et cetera, but listen, this has probably been the heaviest course load I've had in my four years. Granted, I'm not also doing nine million other things (i.e. crew and all that it entails), so I am sane and well-rested. But pulling together my honors thesis has been quite the ordeal, on top of the two linguistics papers I told you about last time. Which naturally means that I've made two cakes this week, in addition to a batch of pierogies. I whipped this cake up last night just as I was sitting down to read for my Balkan languages and identity course, because, why not, it's not like I have two weeks left until finals... 

The first cake of the week was a clementine and almond cake with chocolate glaze from, you guessed it, the Jerusalem cookbook. I cannot praise this book enough, truly -- I also made Ottolenghi's burnt eggplant salad (which tastes so much better than it sounds) that I've been eating on pitas with classic hummus (also from his cookbook), swiss chard leaves, pomegranate seeds, mint, and parsley. So. Good. I've been eating my pierogies with a mountain of sour cream and braised red cabbage with apple cider vinegar and caraway seeds, and later this week I've got roasted chicken with parmesan cauliflower lined up. I can't complain. Jimmy has made a series of different vegetable stews, in particular a Moroccan chickpea stew from the New York Times cooking blog, that are super tasty as well. 

While I've been procrastibaking, I've also been planning for super exciting upcoming adventures! Papa Z and I will be doing some apartment hunting in DC in the coming months, so I've been figuring out the city's layout and finding nice places to live. I'll also be doing the classic post-graduation Euro trip this summer, and I've started seriously planning for that as well. Right now I'm thinking of spending a few days in Nice, France, taking a train along the coast to Genoa, Italy, and then hopping over to Bologna before meeting up with Jimmy and his family in Siena, just south of Florence. Then a few days in London before returning to Chicago to pack up and U-Haul over to DC with my life's possessions. Exciting!! 

Life is good, friends. I promise you'll hear more soon, especially because I have photos of two other recipes I've been meaning to share with you. Chao chao for now.

The recipe is from Tasting Table. If you haven't already subscribed to their emails, you really should, I'm just saying, look at this cake.

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad

Here is another delightful recipe from Jerusalem (by Ottolenghi & Tamimi). I made the most delicious chicken broth I've ever had (true life, no hyperbole) from Oma & Bella on Saturday, and used the leftover chicken to make this salad. It was really quite prescient of me because I promptly came down with a 24-hour bug of some sort on Sunday. I essentially lived on broth, saltines, and diluted Gatorade for a couple days before feeling normal again. Truly, this broth is magical. I can post the full recipe if you'd like, but suffice to say it was an almost three hour affair involving celery root, parsnips, carrots, leeks, dill, and parsley. How could that not be excellent? There's a special place in my heart for parsnips, so it already couldn't go wrong. I think the most instrumental techniques were a) covering the raw chicken in Kosher salt and letting it sit for half an hour before rinsing and cooking and b) constantly skimming any foam off the top of the pot to keep the broth crystal clear. I'm sorry to say that I've eaten (well, drunk for the most part) it all already.

These are crazy times, friends. I'm starting to think seriously about my move to Washington, D.C., after graduation. I'll be working there for the next two years as a financial analyst in the relatively new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and I'm super excited. I haven't done anything quite like this before, but my seemingly disconnected experiences throughout college came together nicely for this opportunity. I've started apartment hunting, searching for an adult volleyball league, and looking for [cheap] language classes for my abundance of spare time (in comparison to UChicago life). Exciting!! But first I need to graduate, which entails me finishing my honors thesis. That's been going fairly well, in the sense that I haven't hit any major road blocks in experimentation or writing, but a lot more slowly than I had anticipated.

Otherwise I've been taking two absolutely fabulous linguistics classes to finish my minor, one on language and identity in Southeastern Europe and another specifically on contact linguistics. I've been so happy and engaged that I'm considering linguistics graduate school now, with an eye toward international policy work slash foreign service slash international economic consulting. That's not terribly specific, but I know at least that I do not want to go into academia per se. I've become increasingly interested in studying Ukrainian identity, especially as a function of language, in such a contested area with an incredibly interesting history and currently volatile political situation. Not to mention that I identify as ethnically Ukrainian, without really understanding why I personally identify as such, what that means for others, and what that identity entails among Ukrainians living in Ukraine or who recently emigrated. I'm writing a term paper on the emergence of Ukrainian identity through the establishment of its literary language, so we shall see what I dig up there. I'm also writing a term paper for my other linguistics class on a Ukrainian-Russian mixed language spoken in Ukraine called surzhyk (a pejorative term for flour made from mixed grains), which will be incredibly interesting for me.

All in all I am actually having a fabulous, albeit stressful, penultimate quarter, full of excellent reading, excellent food, and excellent quality time with my favorite people.

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad
adapted from Jerusalem by Ottolenghi & Tamimi

1 orange
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoons saffron threads
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 kilogram (2 1/4 pounds) chicken, cooked and shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, sliced thinly
Handful cilantro leaves
Handful basil leaves
3-4 sprigs-worth of mint leaves
1 serrano chile, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Trim and discard about a 1/2 inch off the top and tail of the orange. Cut it into 12 wedges, keeping the skin on and removing any seeds. Place the orange, honey, saffron, and vinegar in a small pot with just enough water to cover. Simmer for 1 hour. You should have a soft orange and about 3 tablespoons of syrup left (If the liquid gets too low during cooking, just add a little more). Puree the orange and syrup together to create a smooth paste, adding small amounts of water as needed.

In a large bowl, season the shredded chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Pour half of the sauce over the chicken and toss to coat (reserve the other half of the sauce for another purpose, like serving with fish or vegetables). Add the olive oil, lemon juice, and fennel, then toss to combine. Add more salt, pepper, oil, or lemon as needed. Tear the herbs over the bowl with your fingers, then toss in the chile. Toss everything to combine. 

Grapefruit Cookies

I truly want to like grapefruit. I buy a couple of them every so often, thinking that this time, my palate will be sophisticated enough to appreciate it. Inevitably, I will struggle through the first couple segments of the fruit, before declaring that I do not, in fact, like grapefruit - then the remaining segments will languish for a week in a bowl in the fridge as I pick them out one by one, nibble on them, and twist my face at the incredible bitterness. The problem is that, three years ago in Florida, I timidly tried and subsequently devoured the most excellent grapefruit known to humankind - tart, vaguely bitter but in a pleasant way that offset the sweetness of the juice running down my fingers. That was a glorious fruit indeed, and a mental taste-image to which I keep returning, only to be disappointed again. Over Christmas break, I fell victim to my memories once more, but this time, after picking at one of the fruits for a while, I used the other for these cookies. Can't go wrong with butter and sugar.

On an unrelated note. I made pizza with Jimmy a couple weeks ago and snagged this glorious photo of the dough. Behold.

This post was pretty short; I'll have more next week or even this weekend (hopefully), but I'm under water on all of my obligations for the quarter already. Surprise. At least it's my second to last quarter, and once I finally turn in my thesis and graduate I'll be traipsing around our nation's capital for a while. Spoilers! More soon!

Grapefruit Slice-and-Bake Cookies
adapted from Bon Appétit Lemony Slice-And-Bakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated grapefruit zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks

Whisk flour and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter, sugar, zest, and vanilla in a large bowl, occasionally scraping down sides, until light and fluffy (3 minutes).

Add the egg yolks and beat just to blend. Reduce the speed to low, then add the flour mixture and beat, occasionally scraping down sides, just to blend. 

Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 10 inch long log about 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 1 hour. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap one dough log at a time. Using a sharp, lightly floured knife, cut log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds. Transfer to the prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart.

Bake until cookies are firm and golden brown around edges, 16–18 minutes. Let cool for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough log, using cooled baking sheets and new parchment paper.

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh grapefruit juice

Whisk sugar and juice in a small bowl, adding more juice if too thick. Spread or drizzle icing over cookies. Let stand until icing sets, about 10 minutes.