As big of a fan that I am, I have to admit that the whole avocado toast trend is starting to get tired. Sure, someone breathed fresh air into it by creating the avocado rose, but it's the exact same thing, is it not? This being said, put anything and everything in front of me that incorporates avocado, in any form, and I will gladly eat it. If it's any indication of my love for avocado, I ate an entire Whole Foods container of guacamole yesterday. It was delicious.
At the end of the day, variety and change is a good thing. Have you ever attempted to eat leftovers two or three days in a row? It gets boring. Back in May, Smak published an article about Savory Toast, an delicious alternate for avocado toast. Today, Smak brings you another option - Peppered Butter and Pear Toast - something a bit sweeter, but equally balanced by the peppered butter and Maldon sea salt.
Pour yourself a cup of coffee, open up the latest edition of Drift Magazine, and enjoy breakfast.
|Peppered Butter and Pear Toast | Recipe from bon appétit
butter black pepper whole grain bread pear bee pollen flaky sea salt
Season room-temperature butter with cracked black pepper.
Spread toasted thin whole grain bread with pepper butter and top with thinly sliced pear.
Taco Tuesday. It happens every week. Every seven days we have the privilege of celebrating this incredible day. Here is my question: do we give it enough respect and ___ that it deserves? No, I don't think we do. Sure, an Instagram post of the phenomenal fish taco at Seamore's, or the cochinita taco at Taco Joint, is great but I think it is time our country formally recognizes the greatest that is Taco Tuesday.
With this in mind, I've complied a few laws that ought to be implemented as soon as possible:
Taco Tuesday with henceforth be recognized as a national holiday.
Employers must provide workers with a taco lunch ever Tuesday.
The work day will legally end at 4:30pm every Tuesday, allowing individuals adequate time to get home to make taco dinner or get to the restaurant of their choosing to enjoy their taco dinner.
All restaurants must extend their Happy Hour specials until 8:00pm every Tuesday, allowing patrons to fully enjoy their tacos and drinks without the stress of having to finish before the specials end.
All schools must provide students with a taco lunch option in the cafeteria.
Taco Tuesday filters will be made available on Snapchat all day, every Tuesday.
Really, these aren't too much to ask of our government. I would like to hope that they understand the importance of celebrating such an important day. In the meantime, while we wait for these laws to be enacted, I've developed a recipe for fish tacos with a tomatillo cream sauce. And because I am such a nice guy, I've published this article today, the day before Taco Tuesday, giving you ample time to make sure that you have all the necessary ingredients to make this for dinner tomorrow. I hope you enjoy!
| Fish Tacos with Tomatillo Cream Sauce |
Beer Batter: 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 cup dark Mexican beer
Tomatillo Cream Sauce: 1 pound halved tomatillos 4 halved chiles, seeded 2 garlic cloves cilantro, handful 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 cups chicken broth, plus 2 tablespoons 1 tablespoon corn starch 1/4 cup heavy cream salt, to taste
Tacos: oil, for frying 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning 2 pounds skinned tilapia cut into 5 by 1/2-inch strips freshly ground black pepper corn tortillas kale, sliced radishes, sliced
Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
Gradually add in the beer while whisking. Set aside and let the batter rest for 15 minutes before using.
Tomatillo Cream Sauce:
Broil tomatillos, chiles and garlic for about 10 minutes, turning chiles and garlic halfway through, until blackened.
Blend these ingredients with cilantro. Blend until creamy.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add the tomatillo mixture and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add 1 cup of the broth and simmer until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream and the salt. (I mixed 2 tablespoon chicken broth with 1 tablespoon corn starch to help thicken the sauce.) Let cool slightly before serving on tacos.
In a large skillet, over medium heat, add enough oil to reach a depth of 1-inch. Heat the oil until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F or when the end of a wooden spoon sizzles when inserted into the oil.
Working in batches, dip the fillets in the beer batter and coat on both sides. Fry in the hot oil until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Make tacos with the tortillas and fish and top each with tomatillo cream sauce, kale and radishes. Garnish with a squeeze of lime.
When I was out West last week, my brother and I spent most of our time away from cities. Walking along the coast, going on strolls through raspberry fields, hiking in the North Cascade Mountains. Whether consciously or not, most of our activities revolved around nature. That being said, you cannot fly out to the Pacific Northwest for nine days without spending at least a little time in Seattle. That would be absurd.
The last time that I was in Seattle, or the Pacific Northwest for that matter, was eight years ago for my cousin's wedding. A lot had changed. And a lot had stayed the same. Looking back at my day in Seattle, I feel as though most of it was spent in or around Pike Place Market. Watching fish get thrown to and fro. Admiring the beautiful bouquets of flowers. People watching. Drinking coffee at Storyville Coffee, overlooking the iconic Pike Place Market sign. And then making our way down to the waterfront to watch ships head out to open water.
One of my favorite parts of the Market was getting a grilled cheese at Beecher's. Really? You got excited over a flipping grilled cheese sandwich?, you are probably thinking. Okay now, cool yourself. For anyone that does not have a seriously nostalgic memory revolving around grilled cheese sandwiches...well, I am not sure I can trust you. Is there any food more definitive of comfort food? Imagine this - you are sitting inside on a cool gloomy day. There is a slight chill in the air that forces you to put on a sweater. You want to go outside and do something, but the steady rainfall eliminates any possibilities. So what do you make when you get hungry? A hamburger? Sushi? Pasta? No. You make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup.
When I got back to Chicago this week, I was in desperate need of a little comfort food. Grilled cheese was in order. With a little inspiration from Beecher's (a simple cheddar cheese wouldn't do for this sandwich), I fell upon this recipe for grilled cheese with spicy tomato jam. While I am typically not a fan of brie-esque cheeses (i.e. Camembert), this combination was perfect - elevating the sandwich just enough to make you feel okay for making a grilled cheese as a 28-year old.
| Grilled Cheese with Spicy Tomato Jam | Recipe from Max and Eli Sussman
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 4 slices brioche, each about 1 inch thick 4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup) 2 slices extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, at room temperature 4 oz Camembert cheese, at room temperature, broken into small pieces 4 tablespoons spicy tomato jam (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread a thin layer of butter on one side of each bread slice. Sprinkle the buttered sides with the Parmesan, dividing it evenly, and shake off the excess.
Turn 2 of the bread slices butter-and-Parmesan side down. Top each slice with a slice of Cheddar, then half of the Camembert, and finally 2 tablespoons of the jam, adding the jam in small dollops. Close the sandwiches with the remaining 2 bread slices, buttered side up.
Heat an ovenproof nonstick or cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, place the sandwiches in the pan (do not crowd them; if your pan is small, cook them one at a time). After 3 minutes, check to see if the first side is a deep golden brown; it may need another minute. When nicely browned, flip the sandwiches and cook until golden brown on the second side, about 3 minutes longer.
Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted, another 3 minutes or so. Let cool slightly, then cut in half and serve warm.
| Spicy Tomato Jam |
2 lbs ripe tomatoes 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped 2/3 cup honey 1 tbsp balsamic 3 tsp (or more to taste) Sriracha 1/2 tsp salt several grinds fresh black pepper
Fill a large pot with boiling water and bring it to a boil.
Drop the tomatoes into boiling water for 12-14 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon.
Rinse under cool water, then slip their skins off (they should come right off). Let cool, then core and chop.
Dump the water out of the pot and return it to the stove.
Add the chopped tomatoes, onion, honey, balsamic, Sriracha, salt and pepper.
Turn the heat up and bring to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 55-65 minutes.
Spending nine days in the Pacific Northwest reminded me of two things:
I love spending time outdoors and realize I need to find time to get out of the city more often.
I will always have an irrevocable love for coffee.
I know what you're thinking, Tommy, this is old news. You're a caffeine addict who loves talking about it.
This is all true. There is no way in God's green Earth that I could deny this fact. I, Tommy Engstrom, am stupidly in love with coffee. I used to hate Keurig coffee. I drink that now. I love me a good trenta iced coffee from Starbucks. A nice latte or cappuccino from The Elk in NYC? Yup, I am on board with that as well. Moral of the story, there are very few types of coffee that I dislike. Although, don't try to give me the frou-frou sweet drinks. I am not about that life. I like my coffee plain and simple.
A coffee shop is something much more than just a place to indulge in your caffeine fix. For me, it is a place where I can go and sit in peace and quiet. Where I can enjoy a latte while reading a great novel or magazine. I am able to go with a friend and catch up on each others lives. I am able to go and watch the world pass around me, witnessing, if only for a moment, what the lives of those around me look like.
The Elk is a small little coffee shop tucked back on a West Village street. Large windows fill the front facade and light spills into the space. People sitting at the bar, typing away on their laptops. A mother feeding her child fresh fruit while she sips on a coffee. Men and women filing in and out to pick up a cup before they head off to work. The Elk is not just a coffee shop. It is a peak into the lives on New Yorkers. It is an escape from the busy streets and pressures of work. It is an excuse to get away and do nothing more than enjoy. Enjoy a book. Enjoy life. Enjoy conversation. Enjoy coffee.
A special thanks to Claire Chan for helping make this article possible!
Nine days in the Pacific Northwest. Nine days away from Chicago. Nine days of no work. Nine days of time to relax, unwind, and hit the reset button. Now that's not to say that Erik and I didn't stay busy; we were in a constant state of motion - always doing something, driving to a new site, cooking a meal, going on a hike. Ultimately, what I needed was simply a week away. A week with no responsibilities, no expectations, no agendas.
I wouldn't even know where to begin in talking about the past week, which is why I am saving that for a later post, or two, or five. That being said, the week far exceeded every expectation. While most of the time in Seattle and Portland was jammed packed, I had a few hours last night to sit out on my aunt and uncle's deck with a blanket, cup of coffee and some snacks (I forced myself to resist the urge to take a nap - I knew that landing in Chicago at 5:10am this morning would be rough.). Every so often, whether on vacation or at home in Chicago, I try to unplug (turning off my iPhone, no music, no TV) and allow myself to do something in peace and quiet. Read. Write. Meditate. Listen to the wind move through the branches outside my window. Talking about hitting the reset button!
Fun (obvious) fact about Tommy: I like food.
So it can safely be assumed that when I am sitting at my desk writing, or relaxing in my winged-back chair reading a book, I like to have food nearby to snack on. If I am being truthful, what I crave is something along the lines of Cool Ranch Doritos or Double-Stuf Oreos. Let's be real - all the unhealthy food tastes the best, or at least is the hardest to resist. In a valiant attempt to be healthy, I buy fruit, vegetables, and yogurt to snack on. I stay clear of the processed stuff. Recently however, I mixed it up a little by tossing chickpeas with seasoning and threw them in the oven. Hello healthy snack!
Do you give into snack food temptations? Or have you found healthy alternatives to munch on? Let me know in the comments below.
| Roasted Chickpeas with Garam Masala |
Ingredients 1 15-ounce cans chickpeas 1 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 to 4 teaspoons garam masala
Heat the oven to 400°F. Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Rinse and drain the chickpeas.
Dry with a clean dish towel or paper towels.
Toss the chickpeas with olive oil and salt. Spread the chickpeas out in an even layer on the baking sheet.
Roast the chickpeas in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
Toss the chickpeas with the garam masala and serve while the chickpeas are still warm and crispy.
In a dream world, what would your day look like? Would you be doing the exact same thing you do now? Or would your day look entirely different? Perhaps there are bits and pieces that are perfect, things that you wouldn't change at all. And then there are a few aspects of day to day life that you wouldn't mind looking a little different. 24-hours in the day seems like not enough time to accomplish everything. But that's half the fun - challenging yourself to fill the day with activities and tasks that are both rewarding and enjoyable. Reading the newspaper. Going for a run out in a forest preserve. Spending 15 minutes a day in quiet medication. Write.
These all sound wonderful and are clearly a part of my dream day. But the #1 thing that will always find its way onto the itinerary for my dream day? Enough time in morning to relax outside on a porch or balcony, enjoying a large cup of coffee with a delicious well-balanced breakfast. In reality, the number of times I am truly able to pull this off is few and far between, but after all, isn't that why I prefaced this article by asking about your dream day?
What does your dream day look like? Do you have any toast recipes that you love? Let me know in the comments below.
What is creativity? Is it confined to one specific craft or can it span a variety of occupations, skills, and techniques? Painting. Singing. Writing. Cooking. Sculpting. These are the clear obvious ideas of creativity. And for good reason. But how can creativeness play into other arenas, arenas that are not necessarily considered to be part of the 'arts?' Numbers. Technology. Engineering. Finance. I don't know about you, but when I think about these areas of work, my first thought is definitely not that they are creative in nature. Plugging away at numbers? What's creative about that? But in reality, anything can be approached with a creative mindset. Problem solving. Becoming more aware of situations are your surroundings. Asking the right questions. These all are ways that people choose to be more creative in their given field.
It is this creativity that drives and motivates that team at Owen + Alchemy, a juice apothecary located in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. "We [love] the creative mindset in Logan, and knew if we set up business there we wouldn’t have to play it safe with our menu or certain design elements of the space. We’re inspired daily by the neighboring local businesses," says Anne Owen, co-owner of the shop. The minute you step into the store, it is apparent that this team wasn't messing around. Rather than looking like your basic health food store, Owen + Alchemy pushes the limits with sleek sexy decor. Mute black walls. Locally built sculptures and furniture. No detail has been over looked or forgotten.
What about the juices? Are they really all that they are hyped up to be? Yes, yes and yes. The chefs aim to purchase the majority of their ingredients from local farmers. "By purchasing locally, you can reduce your carbon footprint, seasonal produce is better for you since it’s harvested/picked at it’s peak and doesn’t have to travel far distances to reach you. Local food also supports crop variety and preserves open space," says Owen.
Sexy design and locally sourced ingredients has to be the winning combination, right? But what about the fact that O+A is plopped down in the middle of the country's third largest city? It would be easy to have hesitations about the success of a small local juice apothecary. Is it going to find its stride? Would people outside of Logan Square embrace and support this local venture? The answer to all of these questions is an astounding yes! Personally, from someone living outside Owen + Alchemy's home neighborhood, I could not be more proud of and happy for the success that Anne and her team has experienced. From the opening of a pop-up location at Eataly, to bottling over 1,000 juices a day to sell at the 2015 Lollapalooza festival, O+A is consistently pushing boundaries and exceeding expectations.
A huge thank you to Anne Owen for helping make this article possible!
Can we just play pretend forever? Let's say that a meat lovers pizza is non-fat with only 50 calories. Diet Coke is not terrible for you. Candy and sweets doesn't give you cavities. Laying around all day in boxer briefs while watching Netflix, drinking pots of coffee, and eating bags upon bags of Goldfish in fact burns calories. And most importantly, far more important than any of the previous examples, gallons and gallons of ice cream is the healthiest food in the world.
Clearly not a single one of these statements are true. It's a shame, isn't it?
The older I get (okay, I realize that 28-years old is not that old, just go with it...), the more I realize that it is more important to enjoy life. To live in the moment. I cannot tell you how many times I hear people talking about the calories that they have eaten throughout the course of a day, or the number of miles that they had to run in order to burn off dinner from the night before. What about the amount of money that they pay for personal trainers to whip them into shape, all while analyzing and meticulously controlling ever single thing that they eat? It's kind of insane, isn't it?
Here's some advice, live life in moderation. Work out. Treat yourself to a dish of kiwi lime sorbet. Go for a long walk along the beach. Treat yourself to a dish of kiwi lime sorbet. Get a promotion at work. Treat yourself to a dish of kiwi lime sorbet. Complete a 5k. Treat yourself to a dish of kiwi lime sorbet. Finally ask out that special someone. Treat yourself to a dish of kiwi lime sorbet. What it all boils down to is this: treat yourself to a dish of kiwi lime sorbet.
Cut kiwis in half and remove skins (I used a large spoon to scoop them out). Place in blender and pulse 3-4 times; enough for everything to do a once around on the mixing blade. Pour in sugar and lime juice and pulse 6-8 more times, until the kiwis liquify and no chunks remain. Do not over mix, or you will break the kiwi seeds.
Pour mixture into a plastic bag and seal, removing any air from inside the bag. Allow to chill in freezer for at least 45 minutes.
Once chilled, churn your sorbet in an ice cream machine according to your manufacturer's instructions. Scoop into freezer-proof container and allow to chill for at least 4 more hours, preferably overnight.
Trivia Answer: a sauce made with puréed vegetables or fruit and used as a base or garnish.
About a month or two ago a group of friends and I began going to trivia night at a local bar. $5 Jack Daniel's drinks. $10 domestic pitchers. 25¢ wings. Trivia with your friends. What else could you ask for? Week after week, we have continued going, each time realizing more and more how good we are at trivia.
Name 1 of the 3 U.S. Presidents to have gotten married while in office. Grover Cleveland
Name the two books from an Anne Rice trilogy that have been made into films. Interview with a Vampire & Queen of the Damned
Before Cairo, what is the most populous city in Africa? Lagos
It quickly became apparent that our brains were filled with a vast amount of random, potentially useless, facts covering an array of categories - food, geography, commercials, sports, advertising, history, chemistry. It was so apparent that the trivia host approached me last week and asked why our team was not an official league team. League? A trivia league? That's right! I, Tommy Engstrom, am officially a member of a trivia league. Don't worry, it's okay to be jealous. I would be too.
And following this article, you will have been blessed with a number of useless facts, including the definition of coulis, which I had no idea was a culinary term until I made this recipe. I am not sure what that says about me considering I am a food writer, but that is besides the point.
This recipe is hands down one of my favorites that I have made in recent months. But be warned - it packs a kick. The spices in the rub and coulis are sure to clear your sinuses - a nice dollop of sour cream will be much welcomed.
Give the recipe a try and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Red Pepper Coulis: 3-4 large red bell peppers 1 small red onion 1 tablespoon canola oil 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 1 garlic clove, minced 1/2 cup red wine 1/4 cup water 1 tablespoon tomato purée salt and pepper, to taste
Shrimp: 18- 20 large shrimp 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Garnish: sour cream 1/2 cup chopped scallions
Mix the dry-rub ingredients together in a pie pan and set aside.
Roast the peppers whole and the onion in quarters under a broiler or on a charcoal grill until the skin blisters on the peppers and the onion wilts.
Put the peppers in a paper bag for ten minutes and then peel and seed them. Set aside.
Heat the canola oil in a heavy-bottom saucepan over hight heat. Add the crushed pepper flakes and heat for a minute to flavor the oil.
Add the minced garlic and sauté quickly for about one minute. Do not let the garlic burn.
Add the onion and roasted pepper. Sauté for 1 minute. Now add the red wine, water, and tomato purée.
Continue cooking for about another 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and purée this mixture in a blender or food processor, and pass through a fine-holed sieve. Correct seasoning and keep warm.
Peel and devein the shrimp.
Preheat a heavy-bottomed pan on high. Add the olive oil and heat.
Dredge the shrimp in the chili rub and sear in the hot pan on both sides until just done. This should take about two to three minutes maximum per side.
Garnish the cooked shrimped with the warm coulis, sour cream, and scallions.
Ten days from now I will be sitting in a plane headed to the west coast for a vacation with my brother. Despite the fact that I just watched the movie, San Andreas, and was scared silly (I get paranoid about that stuff - it IS going to happen eventually), I cannot wait to spend ten days is Washington and Oregon.
The last time I was in the Pacific Northwest was eight years ago for my cousin's wedding. I was still in college. My hair was buzzed. I still drank frou-frou venti iced mochas, don't worry though, I didn't get the whipped cream. #classyAF I wore heinously awkward 'sporty' Ray Ban sunglasses that I thought made me look like a badass.
Needless to say, much has changed and trip out West is long overdue. To top it all off, this trip marks the beginning of some very exciting things for Smak. Things that are still in their infancy, but things that I cannot wait to launch and share with you all. Get ready - it's a big deal. Until then, listen to the newest edition of Jams of the Month and look at these amazing pictures of Seattle.
artist | song
moderat | reminder cappa | goddess (eau claire remix) ryder | fade away broods | free kolaj, quinn xcii | 100 degress (feat. quinn xcii) ben phipps, ashe | alive hillsong young & free | where you are nicole millar | tremble topic, nico santos | home (feat. nico santos) a r i z o n a | i was wrong christine and the queens | it m83 | do it, try it kaskade, zhu | in the morning blajk | hamptons ellie goulding | here's to us bishop | wild horses vérité | weekend (penguin prison remix) mnek | more than a miracle rüfüs | innerbloom bob moses | tearing me up
I was compensated by World Vision for my time writing this post.All opinions are my own.
About 3.4 million sponsored children served in more than 1,660 communities worldwide.Thanks to World Vision donors worldwide in 2014.
420 million vulnerable children whose well-being was promoted through our work, including advocacy contributing to policy change.Thanks to World Vision donors worldwide in 2014.
10.7 million disaster survivors, refugees, and displaced people assisted in 2014.Thanks to World Vision donors worldwide.
This past year was truly the first that I began learning about World Vision, as a group of friends began training with Team World Vision for the 2015 Chicago Marathon. I could remember having seen the jerseys at marathon courses during my running years, but never really thought much of it. It's just another charity, I thought to myself. Thinking back, that mentality is so common in our country. We may acknowledge something, but never take action. We may read about hardships across the globe, or perhaps even our own country, but never take steps to find a solution. I am unfortunately just as much as fault as the person next to me.
The more and more I saw how excited and inspired my friends were about this cause, the more intrigued I became myself. What was it about this organization that was so incredible? October 13, 2015 I watched as thousands of runners ran through the streets of Chicago. People of all ages, race, ethnicities and sizes filled the streets. It seemed as though just about every corner of the globe was represented in the race. As the herds passed, I couldn't help but notice how many orange jerseys people were wearing. World Vision had officially made its presence known at the marathon. So, here I am now, May 2, 2016. I have officially signed up to run this year's Chicago Marathon with Team World Vision. And I am even more excited to be writing this article, sharing the amazing opportunity that we all have to give back to people who are going through hardship around the world.
One of the easiest ways to help a child is through sponsorship. Through an ongoing commitment of $39 per month, you can build a relationship with a child and community. It's so important to know that this money is not a handout. The money that you give goes towards equipping the people with the tools, resources, training and hope needed to ensure that they are able to become self-sufficient. The goal is to assist the community in breaking the cycle of poverty through providing them with things like clean water, school fees and supplies, better education, improved nutrition, as well as proper healthcare services.
I would like to propose this challenge: whether you are at the grocery store picking up food for the week, or sitting on the bus to work, running along the lakefront, reading a novel in the comfort of your apartment, or spending time with friends, take a few minutes to look at the World Vision website. Learn about what it takes to get involved with their mission. If you feel so led, find a marathon team to start running with, donate money, start sponsoring a child.
So today may not be the day to go to a rooftop bar. Gloomy. Cold. Heavy waves crashing against the shore on Lake Michigan. The weather is so somber in fact that I decided to wear all black today.
Here's what we Chicagoans forget: 60 and 70 degree weather is not truly summer yet. It simply feels incredible compared to the winter weather that we've grown accustomed to over the last six months. But the matter of the fact is that this upcoming marks May 1. So whether or not I'm wearing a pair of fresh white Vans and enjoying a rosé on a rooftop overlooking the city, it is fair enough to say that the time has come to know what hot stops are a must visit for Summer 2016.
Below I've compiled a list of some of my favorite places in Chicago during the summer months. Take a look. Let your mouth water. Imagine the sun beating down on your skin, giving you that perfectly bronzed tan. Oh, and just make sure you have a few of your best friends by your side to make it the best summer ever!
It's a beautiful spring evening. The sun is beginning to stay out later, slightly throwing off your internal clock, it's not supposed to be light when I get off work. But it is! The windows in your apartment are constantly open, allowing a subtle breeze to drift through. The months of working out leading up to swimsuit season are finally showing results. You look hot AF.
Much to your surprise, you manage to land a hot date. You're not nervous, but it appears as though the summer fling season may be starting. You go to the store and pick up a new shirt. Teeth brushed. Hair cut. But what to do? Dinner and a movie? Boring. Mini golf? No way. You're an adult now. It's time to step things up and be classy.
The only problem, you've wasted so much time thinking about what to do, that there is no time to do anything. What to do?!
Spend an evening with Eataly. No, I am not telling you to take your date to Eataly, although that is absolutely an option. My advice is to go pick out a bottle of wine, my favorite being La Mozza. Bring said bottle of wine to the cheese and meat counter and ask them to build a charcuterie plate around the origin and flavors the wine. It's a sure-fire way to impress. Added bonus? You can sample the cheeses and meats before buying. Let's be honest, a little cheese never hurt nobody.
Lay out the spoils of the hunt, open the bottle of wine with enough time to allow it to breath. Make sure you look good. And then enjoy the evening with the perfect date, someone I like to call, "Me, Myself and I."
Here we are approaching rooftop season. The sun is out. Sunglasses on. Pale thighs showing their ghastly selves. Rosé and cocktails in hand. It's simply the natural progression of seasons. As quickly as the temperature passes that 60 degree mark, so too, do we forget that winter ever happened.
But what did we do all of those long cold months?
Besides the obvious Netflix and Chill, there's always going to a bar or restaurants, perhaps a movie or museum, but what if I wanted to actually do something? And by "something" I mean some physical activity that makes me feel less like a pale whale in the dead of winter.
When I was in New York City this past February, it was brutally cold. Coming from a Chicagoan, I think this says a lot. While it wasn't quite as bad, it reminded me of the infamous Polar Vortex of 2011. Remember those -50 degree days? Well, it wasn't that cold in NYC, but it was close enough. After living in Manhattan, and not visiting Brooklyn often, if at all, it was a nice change of pace to stay with a friend in the Crown Heights neighborhood. Did you guys know that there is actually life beyond Manhattan!?
Having had enough of apartment life, we braving ventured out and found our way to Royal Palms, a shuffleboard bar in Brooklyn. I walked in and immediately thought, Holy cow - I can drink and play games?! I think I'm in heaven. No longer did I have to worry about those wintertime blues. I could enjoy a night out, doing summer activities, all while drinking, listening to music and enjoying the company of friends.
I feel as though I am starting to sound like a broken record. Do you think Tommy is ready for summer? Is the weather in Chicago bipolar and beautiful one day and frigid the next? Okay, okay, so it should go without saying that the closer we get to May, June, July...all of those summer months...the more and more excited I get.
I remember living in New York City and thinking there was nothing better than summer in THAT city. It had to be New York City in order for it to be a good summer in the city. Chicago wouldn't do. Minneapolis wouldn't do. Los Angeles was too hot. Oklahoma City was, well, Oklahoma City. Five years later I am living in Chicago, IL and I can confidently say that summer in Chicago is incredible. So incredible in fact, that I would dare to say that I prefer it over summer in NYC.
Okay, who am I? What have these last two years done to me?
When I think of summer my mind immediately goes to drinking beer on patios around the city. Wine typically goes on a slight hiatus, unless I am in an unusual mood and feel like drinking a white wine or rose (doesn't happen too frequently). When it comes to cocktails, gin & tonics are my go-to for the summer. Light and refreshing. A nice splash of citrus. It's perfect for those hot days in July. At the end of the day though, they can get quite mundane. It's the same exact drink over and over again. With this in my mind, I took it upon myself to mix things up a little bit and put a twist on a classic. And by twist I mean simply adding a little rosemary.
There are really only two words necessary to win over my heart:
Here's a lovely anecdotal story about my childhood. Growing up my grandparents on my dad's side of the family lived in Minnesota. We would see them a few times a year - typically around Christmas time and then during the summers. In fact, every summer for a few years my grandma and grandpa would take all of their grandchildren (there were nine of us) up to their house on Kimble Lake. They called it Cousins Camp. Swimming. Tubing. Horseback Riding. Water Parks. Bonfires. S'mores. Games. Canteen. We had it all.
Another very important fact about my grandparents that helped shape the man I am today...they loved ice cream. And not just a little dinky one-scoop amount of ice cream. We are talking double the volume of the serving container. There was no such thing as too much.
So here I am, many years later, still very much in love with ice cream.
Let's think about this for a second - sure, there are many flavors of ice cream - vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, Moose Tracks, chocolate chip cookie dough, sea salt caramel - but for the most part, those flavors are to be expected. Are they not? In my 28-years of life, I can't say that I have stumbled upon many ice cream flavors that truly surprise me. That is until I was on a date a few weeks back at Ramen-san in Chicago.
Green tea ice cream. Normal. Black sesame ice cream. Norm.....wait, what!?
That's right, I for the first time in my life tried black sesame ice cream and it was shockingly delicious. I do not know what I was expecting. Something nutty? Something um.....I don't know? How do you even describe the flavor of black sesame seeds? I quickly stored this idea in my mental "Try for Smak" list. And a few weeks later, here it is. Homemade black sesame ice cream. Delicious. Different. Experimental. All of the things that I am not sure I was expecting from an ice cream flavor, but absolutely things that I do not regret. Try it. I dare you. Go eat some black ice cream!
1/4 cup black sesame seeds, divided 5 tablespoons honey, divided 3 large egg yolks 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/3 cup granulated sugar 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 600ml heavy cream flaky sea salt, for serving
First, toast your sesame seeds - add to a skillet over medium heat. Stirring constantly, toast until they smell nutty and being making a crackling sound. Remove from heat and let cool.
In a food processor, add 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds and pulse until they begin to breakdown into a gritty paste. Add 3 tablespoons honey and pulse until smooth.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sea salt, 2 tablespoons honey, vanilla, sugar, sesame paste and reserved whole sesame seeds.
In a small saucepan, heat cream until hot, but not boiling. Slowly whisk the cream into the sesame mixture in a continuous, thin stream until well combined and smooth.
Put mixture back onto stove top over medium-medium high heat until the custard reached 175 degrees. Then, remove from heat and add to a mixing bowl. I will often add the bowl to an ice bath to cool it down quicker, or you can let the mixture come to room temperature.
Chill in the fridge for 4-6 hours or until well-chilled. Add to an ice cream maker and churn for 25 minutes. Add to a baking dish or loaf pan covered with foil and chill two hours for the best texture. Serve with another sprinkle of black sesame seeds and flaky sea salt.
And thus begins our week dedicated to sesame seeds - both white and black.
One of the greatest things about living in a city like Chicago and the incredible amount of options that are at your disposal. Shopping. Cultural activities. Sporting events. We may not be New York City, but the Second City (which I am quickly finding myself preferring) offers so many amazing things to take advantage of. Over the last few years I have been working on getting my professional career on track and slowly begin making money. As a result, I have not really had the opportunity to go out and try different restaurants. Being a food blogger, this is a real struggle. Honestly. A big, big struggle.
A month ago I broke out of my shell and went to Ramen-san, a ramen place in Chicago's River North neighborhood. Holy moly, Mother and Joseph, I found a new love. It hadn't been since I first tried Monofuku in New York City that I had ramen that was life changing. Since that point, the extend of my ramen consumption had been sub-par attempts from the Whole Foods near my office. Don't get me wrong, there are many positives to Whole Foods, but their ramen-making-abilities is not one of them. Just take my word for it, do not waste your time.
Sesame seeds. Not in the ramen I ate. Not in the steamed pork bun I ate. Not in the margarita I drank. But in another dish that I devoured.
Something that I've always wanted to do is take one single ingredient and try coming up with different ways to utilize said ingredient. While this particular recipe comes from The Black Dog Tavern, I still couldn't help myself. So I made it. Just wait until you hear what I get to eat after this sesame crusted salmon fillet....it gets even better!
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs 1/2 cup raw white hulled sesame seeds 1/2 teaspoon white pepper 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons Spanish paprika 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons dark (toasted) sesame oil 2 tablespoons canola oil 2 pounds boneless, skinless salmon fillets, approximately 1 inch thick
Mix together the bread crumbs, sesame seeds, white pepper, salt, paprika, parsley, and 1/4 cup of the sesame oil.
Place a sauté pan over medium high heat and add the canola oil.
Rub about 1 teaspoon of sesame oil on the top of each fillet, making sure it is well covered. Press fillets into the bread crumb mixture to coat well.
Place the breaded salmon, crumb side down, in the hot pan and sear for about 5 minutes or until evenly browned.
Turn the fillet over and finish cooking on the other side for about 5 more minutes.
Serve over Chilled Sesame Spinach (recipe below).
| Chilled Sesame Spinach |
1 package fresh spinach, about 10 ounces 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 2 garlic cloves, chopped 2 teaspoons sesame seeds pinch of salt
Rinse the spinach well. Pick over and discard any touch leaves and stems. Dry and reserve.
Place a sauté pan over medium heat and add the sesame oil and crushed red pepper flakes. Heat.
Add the garlic and sesame seeds and sauté until both are slightly browned.
Now add the cleaned spinach and cook, stirring frequently to mix in the garlic and sesame seeds. Watch carefully and remove from heat when just wilted. Season with salt.
Put the wilted spinach in a colander to drain and chill for about an hour.
Rest. As a 28-year old in Chicago, it doesn't really seem like that word exists in my vocabulary. 40+ hour work weeks. Drinks with friends. Dates. Writing two blogs. Attempting to get into the habit of working out. Other writing projects outside of the blogs. Networking. Searching for a new apartment. Reading literature other than blogs and cookbooks. Where in God's green earth am I supposed to fit in time to rest in that mess?
Here's the thing. Rest may look differently person to person. The gut reaction response is that rest means sleeping. Or not allowing yourself to be busy. Sure, that could be a form of rest. But what about that extreme extrovert who hates being alone? Couldn't his or her rest look like spending time with friends? Or the athlete training for a marathon. Is it acceptable to consider their runs alone a form of rest? To you or me that may sound horribly exhausting, but if they are able to find rest, mental or physical, in that activity there is not much to be said against it.
Me personally? I love spending time with people. As much as I doubt it at times, I am a very social person. But if you ask me where I find true rest, both mental and physical, it wouldn't be out at the bars. A quiet afternoon spent with a cup of coffee, a little bit of music, and a pen and paper is exactly what I need to recharge.
When the light started out they don’t know what they heard Strike the match, play it loud, giving love to the world We'll be raising our hands, shining up to the sky 'Cause we got the fire, fire, fire Yeah we got the fire, fire, fire
Gosh, do you think Ellie Goulding ever expected a food blogger to be quoting her song Burn in reference to making Grapefruit Brûlée? Doubtful, very, very doubtful. Ellie - if you would like to come to Chicago and cook with me sometime, I guess I could pencil in some time.
My morning routines and rituals tend to be rather mundane and boring. In fact, they are the very definition of a routine: a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program. It is the same thing day in and day out. I wake up, go to the gym, come home and make half a pot off coffee, take a shower, drink coffee, pick my outfit for the day, drink coffee, eat a few BelVita breakfast biscuits or avocado toast, realizing I'm running late, drink some more coffee, and then run out the door to get to work on time. That is essentially what I have been doing since I moved to Chicago over two years ago. Lately I find myself getting a little bored of the same thing every day. To be completely frank, not much will ever change. But there is one thing that I can do in that day regime. And no, I am not talking about switching to decaf. Why would you ever suggest such a thing?
Breakfast. It is so easy to fall into a routine when it comes to preparing breakfast. It's just easier that way, right? A bowl of cereal. A few breakfast biscuits to go. A slice of toast and a banana. I get that most people do not have the luxury of spending all morning in their robe, preparing elaborate meals for breakfast. That's just how our society work. We are expected to get up and go to work and start our day on time. Do not let our societal norms dictate how you live life. This morning I didn't want to be basic. So avocado toast was out of the question. I woke up on the earlier side, so I had time to make something. Say goodbye to breakfast biscuits. This morning I was feel a little like a pyro and pulled out the chef's torch. Hello Grapefruit Brûlée! The warm crystalized sugar-coating. The cool sour fruit below. Yup, today started out in the perfect way.
| Grapefruit Brûlée |
2 large grapefruits, well chilled 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted 1 tsp. ground cinnamon 4 small fresh mint sprigs
Cut each grapefruit in half crosswise. Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each half, if necessary, so that it will stand upright.
Using a serrated grapefruit knife or a small, sharp knife, loosen the grapefruit segments in each half by first carefully cutting between the fruit and the peel and then by cutting along either side of each segment to free it from the membrane. Leave all the segments in their shells. Place the halves upright in a baking dish.
In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. Using your fingers, sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the grapefruit halves. Using a chef's torch begin hitting the sugar mixture until it is uniformly bubbly.
Transfer each grapefruit half to an individual dish and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve immediately.
The idea can be invigorating or terrifying. Calming or full of anxiety.
I am currently working through a book called The Artist's Way. It is a self-help of sorts, designed "to recover your creativity from a variety of blocks, including limiting beliefs, fear, self-sabotage, jealousy, guilt, addictions, and other inhibiting forces, replacing them with artistic confidence and productivity." Part of this program is to take yourself on artist dates. This is time specifically set aside to give into yourself - go on a long walk alone, go to the movies, take yourself out for a cup of coffee or meal. The key is that it must be solo. Some activities lend themselves better to this than others - long walk? Yea, no problem there. This city is full of people walking, running or biking alone.
What I have trouble with is taking myself out for a meal alone. And as a food writer, that shouldn't be quite as big of an issue it is. I'm working on it. Within the realm of meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner - there is a spectrum of comfort. The first two meals of the day are the easiest to partake in alone. Dinner? Nope. No way. Say hello to awkward Tommy because that's exactly who'd you see.
Last month when I spent 10 days in New York City I found myself having to eat many meals alone. Breakfast would be at the nearest Starbucks - trenta unsweetened iced coffee with a roasted ham and Swiss cheese breakfast sandwich. Lunch would be whatever quick restaurants was closest to my office. And dinner more often than not ended up being a lonely Shack Shake in my hotel room. My last few days I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone. Tommy, man up! You are 28-years old. You are a food writer. You should not be uncomfortable going out for a meal alone!
No matter where I am - at home in Chicago, or traveling across the country - I have found that I am okay at going out to breakfast alone. In fact, it is strangely renewing and invigorating. Instagram is my domain and I find many restaurants across the country that end up on my "To Try" list. Jack's Wife Freda is one of those restaurants. A marble bar line the wall to the right as I walked in. A group of women sat at the front, sipping their coffee and gossiping about he-said-she-said. Other parties were scattered among the not-quite-full dinning area. It appears as though my timing had been spot on.
Ordering a black coffee I took a deep breath and allowed myself to be in the moment. To let go of any stress or anxiety that had built up during the week. I was in New York City. I had two more days to enjoy all that was around me. How the next few days would go was in my hands. And with that, I sat in solitude in Jack's Wife Freda on Carmine Street in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. I ate an incredible Eggs Benny and drank far too many cups of coffee. I was content, no happy! I had allowed myself to take part in the amazing-ness that is dining alone.
So here is my advice to you - You Should Go and Date Yourself!
Be sure to check out Jack's Wife Freda's two locations on Open Table -