elotes avocado toast

i am feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and kind of like a retiree after spending a few glorious days in california. for the last three years, i've flown out west for a may vacation pilgrimage and i feel like the first, second and third times have all been charms. come this year, california was the destination of choice. matt and i kicked off our trip by landing in san francisco just in time to catch the sunset at mission dolores park and capped it off by cheers-ing wine in the seemingly endless vineyards of carmel valley. 

corn elotes with avocado toast || planting my roots

our trip was filled with so many incredible meals, but i suppose that's not totally unexpected in one of the culinary capitals of the country. the first meal in san francisco was dinner at mission chinese, where we split an unlikely but delicious combination of kung pao pastrami and matcha and squid ink noodles. from there, we had burritos, sourdough bread, and craft brews galore. in carmel valley, the wine was much more the star of the show than the food, but we were pretty much just looking for big bowls of pasta to soak up all the wine tastings at that point. whoops.

the recipe in this post was inspired by two san francisco forces: artisanal toast and a renewed focus on seasonal eating. the two culinary highlights of the trip both have humble roots but in san francisco, reached new, imaginative heights.

the based of elotes avocado toast || planting my roots

toast is the ultimate no-frills childhood food, something your parents would sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar before elementary school. in san francisco, however, it's topped with dollops of stone fruit jam, slices of avocado and flaky sea salt, drizzles of local honey and olive oils. in short, it's heaven and also the subject of great scorn for being "hipster food" or the reason millennials can't afford to buy homes

it feels almost silly sometimes to talk about the evolution of seasonal eating. for the vast majority of human history, that was the only option; there was no other way to eat short of preserving foods for when the growing season changed. over the last few decades, however, largely spurred on by culinary queen alice waters, there has been a movement to re-establish connections with our food. alice waters' hallmark restaurant, chez panisse is legendary for being based on a very simple premise: eat what the land provides. eat locally. eat what's in peak season. elevate it with creative flourishes and exceptional service.

corn elotes with avocado toast || planting my roots

it cannot be overstated how excited i was for the reservations we made at chez panisse. i've read every book on alice waters known to man, met her at the dupont farmers market, and have checked out several of her cookbooks from the library. she is such an icon to me for her groundbreaking and creative culinary talents, and also for the work she's done to improve our youngest generation's diets thanks to edible schoolyard. this is all to say, i've been counting down to this day for years.

so, we walked across the famed wooden porch and into my dining mecca, were greeted with a bubbling kir royale...AND THEN...a giant spider crawled across my plate. how far chez panisse fell from grace in a split second! for all the anticipation i had built up in my mind about what eating at chez panisse would be like, i never imagined it would involve me shrieking as i leaped out of my chair, nearly knocking over the table. thankfully, the evening quickly rebounded thanks to a flight of wine pairings and an exquisite dinner. the spider was simply a mere blip on the radar that was far funnier in retrospect than horrifying. what we dined on that lovely evening: 

kir royale and an amuse bouche of *i believe* morel mushrooms with mint on crostini
tartare of local halibut and king salmon en gelee with cucumber salad
soft shell crab amandine with celery and peas
 grilled wolfe ranch quali au poivre with asparagus, turnips and glazed radishes
brooks cherry clafoutis

elotes avocado toast || planting my roots

so, this is all to say that immediately upon returning from san francisco, i had a deep craving for toast and trying more alice waters' recipes. it wouldn't be a california-inspired meal if i didn't turn to sourdough, so you'll want fresh, thick slices of sourdough as the base for this elotes avocado toast. elotes, or grilled mexican street corn, is the perfect topping for this summery meal, which could easily double as a hearty breakfast or light lunch. this take on elotes relies on a cast iron skillet over a grill, but for a wonderful traditional grilled recipe, try out this one from serious eats.

as for the alice waters incorporation into this dish, i used her my pantry recipe for chile-lime salt. it keeps well for several months, and waters recommends serving it as a topping for a bountiful platter of radishes and carrots, or even over mango, watermelon or oranges...with a glass of mescal, she notes. in this case, it pairs perfectly with elotes, a dish bursting with juicy lime. 

corn elotes with avocado toast || planting my roots

elotes avocado toast

serves two

what you'll need:

for chile-lime salt (from alice waters' my pantry):
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp chile powder
zest of 1 lime, finely zested (save lime to use juice in next part of recipe)

for elotes toast:
kernels from 1 ear corn
1/4 cup cotija cheese, finely crumbled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped, plus extra to taste
juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp chile-lime salt
2 slices thick sourdough bread, toasted
1/2 of an avocado

what you'll do:

  1. make chile-lime salt by stirring together sea salt, chile powder and lime zest. set rest of lime aside to use juice for the elotes mixture. store in a tightly covered container, as it will keep for several months. 
  2. heat cast iron skillet, then pour in corn kernels. reduce heat to low and cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until kernels begin to brown. stir occasionally. 
  3. while corn cooks, in a small bowl mix cotija cheese, cilantro, lime juice and chile-lime salt. once combined, pour into cast iron skillet and mix thoroughly with corn kernels. cook for approximately 3-4 minutes. remove from heat.
  4. spread avocado on slices of toast, then top with elotes mixture. garnish with a squeeze of lime juice and cilantro and dig in!

slow roasted tomatoes, burrata, pesto n' polenta

i am a creature of habit in all aspects of life. nowhere is this more pronounced than in my morning routine. alarm sounds at 5 a.m., out of bed eight minutes later, brush my teeth, toss my hair up and head straight to the gym. bike for 40 minutes or run for 40 minutes. shower, make-up, hair x repeat every morning.

now, that's an early morning. but, what grounds me each and every day is coffee, more coffee, podcasts and morning news round-ups. each day it's a steady rotation of bon appétit foodcast, radio cherry bombe, this american life or stuff you missed in history class. (ps - the latest TAL podcast "act v" is hands down one of the best). i love the act of starting every day picking up new tidbits of stories or things i quite literally did miss in history class. 

slow roasted tomatoes, burrata, pesto and polenta || planting my roots

once i settle into my office, then begins the morning e-mail round-up. it's the same three e-mails that greet me every weekday morning - nyt daily briefing, politico playbook and the skimm. politico gives me all the wonky, insider-y baseball dc news. skimm makes me lol and feel like i'm chatting with my friends. nyt is the most straightforward and i love seeing what photo they pick each morning. 

but the real nyt e-mail gem rolls in around 10 a.m. each morning - nyt cooking. there is nothing more calming in the morning than reading sam sifton's very pointed view on exactly what i should be cooking that day and why. i am obsessed with his writing style and cannot think of a better crew of recipe developers than those at nyt (hi, melissa clark!). the inspiration for the dish included in this post came from a nyt cooking recipe, "amazingly sweet slow roasted tomatoes."

slow roasted tomatoes || planting my roots

the slow roasted tomatoes here are nestled on top of a bed of warm, rich polenta, creamy burrata and fresh pesto. it's a multi-step process - make the polenta, roast the tomatoes, whip up the pesto, but oh my is it worth it. perfect for a lovely summer outdoor dinner, and let's be real, i'll take any excuse to eat burrata. 

due to the fact that i was making a big batch of pesto for our weekly friend potluck dinner and i have a best friend with a nut allergy, this pesto is nut-free. it delivers all the freshness of your classic pesto, but strips it down to just five ingredients and one simple recipe instruction. 

slow roasted tomatoes, burrata, pesto and polenta || planting my roots

slow roasted tomatoes, burrata and pesto on a bed of polenta

serves four

what you'll need:

amazingly sweet slow roasted tomatoes
1 pound small plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
kosher salt, to taste
 a tiny amount of sugar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

basil pesto
2 cups fresh basil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt

classic italian polenta
3 cups water
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup corn grits (polenta)
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup parmesan, finely grated

12 oz burrata
black pepper and kosher salt, to taste
fresh basil leaves (optional, for garnish)

what you'll do:

  1. preheat the oven to 300 degrees. line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. put the halved tomatoes in a bowl and toss with the olive oil. place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the baking sheet. sprinkle with salt and a tiny amount of sugar. place in the oven and roast for 2 hours. remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. 
  2. while tomatoes are roasting, prepare pesto. place all pesto ingredients in food processor and blend until thoroughly combined (about 2 minutes). set aside.
  3. to make the polenta, in a large, deep pan over high heat bring water and salt to a boil; gradually stir in polenta. reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent sticking until mixture is very thick (about 20 minutes); use a long-handled spoon because mixture pops and bubbles and can burn. stir in butter and more salt if you'd like. transfer to serving bowls and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
  4. top each bowl of polenta by arranging roasted tomatoes, a spoonful of pesto and burrata, finish with black pepper and kosher salt, and a pinch of fresh basil leaves, if you'd like. 

sweet pea, apple of my eye

last we caught up, i was bouncing all around georgia and mississippi in search of the perfect peach pie and fried green tomatoes. little did i know that mississippi is the land of sweet potatoes, and i returned home hooked on sweet potato coffee of all things! i had an absolutely wonderful time during my campus visit and hope to return very soon. stocking up on more sweet potato coffee being only one of many reasons. 

sweet potato coffee || planting my roots

following my weekend in the south, i headed back home to pennsylvania for easter weekend, then baltimore for a friend's birthday. it's been non-stop, go go go. fast-forward to last weekend, and it was packed with drinks on the stoop, a merdian hill park day, the new infinity rooms exhibit at hirshorn, botanical garden exploring, iced coffee at the farmers market...all good things, very, very good things. and all things that make me want to take a nap once i list them all out. can you tell it's finally nice and we're taking advantage of the beautiful weather? 

stoop drinks || planting my roots

but you know what's perfect in the early days of spring, when it's sunny and lovely late but there's still a bit of a chill in the air? or, days like today when it's just been a massive non-stop downpour? soup. more specifically, a soup that's colorful and bright and light. a pea and mint soup, to be exact.

sweet pea and mint soup || planting my roots

there are many things i love about this recipe, and not only the fact that it makes me want to play amos lee on repeat: 1) few ingredients, but the flavor is spot-on and super fresh, 2) the color is gorgeous, 3) it makes for easy meal prep, 4) it's super speedy to create, and 5) it is perfectly dunkable with freshly baked bread. the two greens - mint and peas - complement each other perfectly and together, they make for a wonderfully light lunch on a cool or dreary spring day. 

sweet pea and mint soup || planting my roots
sweet pea and mint soup || planting my roots

mint and pea soup

serves 4

what you'll need:
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 tsp crushed garlic
1 pound frozen or fresh peas
5 - 6 sprigs fresh thyme (about 3/4 tbsp)
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint, roughly chopped
juice of half a lemon
kosher salt
black pepper

what you'll do:

  1. in large saucepan, melt butter, then sauté onion and garlic. add a generous pinch of kosher salt and stir periodically. 

  2. once onions are translucent (about 6 minutes), add in peas, thyme, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt and black pepper, to taste. stir over heat for about 5 - 6 more minutes, then pour in stock. simmer for 10 minutes.

  3. remove from heat, add in fresh mint and lemon juice. pour soup into blender or food processor, blend for 2 minutes, then pour in milk. blend for another 3-4 minutes, or until completely smooth. serve immediately. 

perfect pistachio and pomegranate hummus

i'm writing this from a hotel room, as i've unexpectedly ended up with a 24 hour layover in atlanta, georgia. i was supposed to be in starkville, mississippi yesterday in the early afternoon, but delta had other plans in mind! i tried to turn these travel woe lemons into lemonade, and ended up having a blast taking the evening to explore downtown atlanta. 

as soon as i landed and settled into my last-minute hotel room, i head downtown to do some market hopping. i started out at krog street market, then made my way to ponce city market. in both places, i weaved in and out of what felt like a mini UN of culinary creations. from indian to south korean to italian to middle eastern, it felt impossible to decide where to eat (or if i should've just "settled" on a big bowl of jeni's ice cream for dinner.)

IMG_7592.JPG

sean brock has been on my radar for quite a while thanks to mind of a chef, so i ultimately couldn't pass up finally trying out one of his restaurants, minero. i was not at all disappointed with the choice! i sipped on a pineapple agua fresco and ate every single bite of carnitas with salsa verde cocida, roasted pumpkin and pepitas (and 2/3 of their renowned warm corn tortillas). i was really craving some soul food or classic southern food while in atlanta, but minero snuck a bit in there since the carnitas were nestled on top of hoppin' john. 

after grabbing dinner, i walked along the beltline before heading back to my hotel. so many people were out on the trail i felt like the entire city of atlanta was in tow for a weekend evening stroll. i strategically placed myself behind a puppy and worked off some of those carnitas, but alas, didn't end up making enough room for some of jeni's. a heaping cone of roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream will just have to be on my bucket list for next time!

pistachio, mint and pomegranate hummus || planting my roots

having extra time on my hands also finally gave me the space i needed to get this new post up! as you have probably noticed at this point, i'm a sucker for all things pistachio > mint > pomegranate. for me, it's the trifecta of ingredients that can be made sweet (imagine as an ice cream topping!) or savory (mmmm on roasted chicken shwarama).

in this case, i've swirled together into a rich, creamy hummus. this dip comes together so quickly, and is wonderful to serve as an appetizer with some toasted, crunchy pita, or as a spread on a sandwich or wrap. you may also want to toss a big spoonful on the side of a veggie-heavy salad, as it adds a wonderful burst of flavor. 

as with happens every time i travel, i'm sure i'll be returning home from mississippi and georgia with a whole new world of flavors to be inspired by. something sweet with peach or pecan? something savory with fried catfish or sweet potato rolls? there's a lot more taste testing left, and someone's gotta do it.

pistachio, mint and pomegranate hummus || planting my roots

pistachio, mint and pomegranate hummus

what you'll need:

1 15 oz can chickpeas, skins removed and chickpea water (aquafaba) reserved
1/3 cup salted and roasted pistachios, plus extra for garnish
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2-3/4 cup tahini (depending on how creamy you'd like it)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
kosher salt, to taste
pomegranate arils, for garnish
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

what you'll do:

  1. remove chickpea skins (click for instructions to do this here - see steps 1 & 2 in recipe!).
  2. in food processor, blend pistachios for about 1 minute, or until a pistachio paste forms. then add chickpeas, garlic, lemon, tahini, mint, salt and aquafaba (should be about 1/2 cup). blend to combine until smooth and creamy.
  3. use a spatula to transfer into serving bowl. top with a light handful of pistachios, extra virgin olive oil and pomegranates. 

quick pickle stacked sandwich

mastering the art of pickling has been on my bucket list for nearly two years now. but, i'm not the most patient person in the world, so i've settled for quick pickle recipes as kinda, sorta checking this skill off my list. also, until i move out of my one bedroom apartment, i have a feeling space will continue to hold me back from shelves and shelves of pickled and preserved foods...le sigh. 

so, what is quick pickling? it's a super simple shortcut to getting the tang, brine and crunch we love in pickled foods, but doing it in just a few hours. starting to quick pickle is a slippery slope, though, so don't say i didn't warn you. once i learned how to do red onions (thanks, bon appetit!), next it was multicolored carrots...then it was cauliflower...then it was radishes. i couldn't look at crunchy vegetable without instantly becoming a portlandia episode of "we can pickle that!" irl. 

quick pickled radishes || planting my roots
quick pickle radishes || planting my roots

all you need on hand is the vegetable of your choice (in this case, radishes), a vinegar, such as white or apple cider vinegar, your preferred spices/herbs and white sugar. for my herb/spice mix, i really like ball's mixed pickling spice, which will only set you back about $4 and makes this process even quicker. i really like ginger for pickled carrots, for example, but use no spices/herbs at all for pickled red onion. the complexity and flavor is totally up to you, and thekitchn has a great guide to some flavor combinations. 

recipes range from calling for a few days until quick pickles are ready to just 20 minutes. for this sandwich, i let the radishes sit for about 5 hours, but i think ideally you should wait at least 24 hours to really let the vinegar do its magic. you'll be rewarded with a hot pink bounty of veggies.

pickled radish, sweet potato and hummus sandwich || planting my roots
pickled radish, sweet potato and hummus sandwich || planting my roots

to complement the peppery radishes, i've layered cumin- and garlic-roasted sweet potato rounds, smooth hummus, coarse dijon mustard and fresh spinach. if you have extra hummus on hand, you can use it as a dip for the pickled radishes, as well as the sweet potato rounds if you crisp them up a bit longer in the oven.

all in all, this sandwich is bursting with flavor and color, and makes for a wonderful lunchtime toast. it's also a testament to DIY cooking, as nearly every single element of this sandwich was homemade - from the bread to the picked radishes, and everything in between. short of growing the spinach and making the mustard yourself, there's a lot of homemade pride packed into each layer.

pickled radish, sweet potato and hummus sandwich || planting my roots

quick pickle radish, sweet potato and hummus sandwich

makes two sandwiches or four toasts

what you'll need:

for quick pickle radish:
1 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp pickling spices
1/3 cup white sugar
6-7 radishes, thinly sliced (8 oz)

for sweet potato rounds:
2 large sweet potatoes, thinly sliced into rounds
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
kosher salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

for rest of sandwich/toast:
4 slices of good bread (stacked for sandwich, open face for toast)
1/2 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup hummus, store-bought or homemade recipe here
4 tbsp coarse dijon mustard
 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

what you'll do: 

to prepare quick pickle radishes:

  1. to make pickling liquid, pour 1 cup water, white vinegar, pickling spices and sugar into small saucepan. over medium heat, whisk until sugar dissolves. 
  2. pour pickling liquid into clean glass jar over radishes. let sit on counter until cool, then move to fridge to rest for at least 5 hours.

to prepare sweet potato rounds:

  1. in a large sauce pan, dump in sweet potatoes rounds and cover with water. heat water to 160° fahrenheit. keep this heat consistent as you cover and set aside for 1 hour.
  2. while sweet potatoes rest in water, place oven rack in upper middle positions. preheat oven to 400° fahrenheit. drain sweet potatoes, then pour into large bowl. toss with extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, cumin and kosher salt and black pepper, adjusting for taste.
  3. pour sweet potatoes across a baking sheet in single layer and roast until bottom side is browned, about 30 minutes. remove from oven and carefully flip each sweet potato round to the other side. place back in oven and roast for about 15-20 more minutes.
  4. remove from oven and let cool.

to assemble sandwich/toasts:

  1. lightly toast all four slices of bread in a pan or cast iron skillet with extra virgin olive oil. toast until golden brown. remove from cast iron skillet, and layer hummus, coarse dijon mustard, spinach, sweet potato rounds and pickled radishes. layer on all four slices for toasts, or on just two slices for sandwiches.