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Three Times Per Day Posts

Empellón Fiesta at The Aviary!

I’m not sure how many people have been told they need to work on their “hair game” by Nick Kokonas, but PIF and I are two of them.

A few Mondays ago, we attended the Chicago release party of Alex Stupak, chef and owner of the Empellóns in New York City, and Jordana Rothman’s new cookbook Tacos: Recipes and Provocations.  This was our first soirée into the world of Chicago’s Food Elite. We spent the night eating and drinking well over the worth of our tickets in tacos and mezcal and got to have conversations with Chefs Alex Stupak, Jenner Tomaska (Next), and Grant Achatz (Alinea), and, obviously, Nick Kokonas (co-owner and co-founder of Alinea and founder of Tock).

Overall, the night was incredibly eye opening. The people we talked to, aided no doubt by the mezcal, were blunt and honest; the crowd was elegant and gave off an air of importance that was contagious; and the food – guacamole with uni, lamb barbacoa tacos, and char roe pico de gallo – was incredible. I was at once captivated, intimidated, and excited. We happened to run into a friend of mine from college who is an aspiring chef and was (smartly) taking advantage of his ticket and treating the event as a job fair. Flanked on both sides by extreme extroverts, I was encouraged to introduce myself to as many people as I had time for in between servings and, as such, I got to shake the hand of every industry influencer there that I had learning about for months.

Later, as I reflected on the evening, I realized that the night had left me with more unanswered – or perhaps unanswerable – questions. None of these brilliant and influential people perfectly embodied exactly what I wanted to be doing in the food realm. Today, I’m still very unsure of my place (if I have one at all), other than that of a voracious eater, enthralled hobbyist, and self-proclaimed critic. If I had to choose, I’d say I fall somewhere between a Jordana and a Nick. While I love to learn, brainstorm, and create, I am simply not a chef. But I am inquisitive, creative, and fully enchanted by this industry that is centered around creating goods that last mere seconds or minutes, experiences that last hours, memories that last a lifetime, and ideas that are both eternal and eternally evolving.

However, there is at least one thing I learned definitively that evening and it is that fresh tortillas taste infinitely better than store bought ones. And, just as importantly, they are extremely easy and fast to make at home. Making tortillas is already a super cheap process, but here is my even cheaper, I-Live-Alone take on Alex Stupak’s recipe.

Corn Tortillas

Adapted from Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman’s Tacos: Recipes and Provocations

Cook time: 10 minutes
Makes 2 tortillas

Ingredients:
1/4 cup masa harina
water
gallon sized Ziplock bag

1. Mix 1/4 cup masa harina with 1/8 cup water in a bowl and mix with hands and roll into a ball. Keep adding water in small increments until you can press the ball without cracks forming in the dough. (I find I generally have to add quite a bit more water.)

2. Once you get it to a good consistency, make two equal sized balls from the one big ball and cover with a wet cloth (This is what Stupak recommends, but I place the ball back into the bowl, which should have a bit of water on the bottom, and cover with a cutting board). I find my tortillas turn out better when I let them sit for 20-30 mins after mixing, so I typically leave it while I prepare the insides.

3. Place one skillet over medium-high heat and another over low-medium heat.

4. Tear the freezer bag along the edges so it is just a large, plastic rectangle.

5. If you don’t have a tortilla press, I had pretty good results pressing the dough between two cookie sheets with heavy books piled on top. To set up your “press,” place one rimmed baking sheet face down, place the open Ziplock bag on the baking sheet, and go get a bunch of heavy books.

6. When you’re almost ready to serve, take a ball and press between your fingers so it’s slightly flat on either side.

7. Place the ball on one side of the Ziplock bag and fold the other half of the plastic bag over the ball.

8. Press the bottom of the other cookie sheet on top of ball and place heavy books on top. Press down until tortilla is desired thickness. Tortilla should be around 5 inches in diameter. Too thin, and it will be impossible to peel off in one piece. Too thick, and it just won’t taste as good.

9. Carefully peel off one side of the Ziplock bag. Place hand over tortilla and slowly peel off other side of the Ziplock bag.

10. Carefully flop tortilla onto the low-medium skillet. (Stupak actually recommends sliding the tortilla onto the skillet but this takes some mastering.)

11. After 15 seconds, use spatula to flip the tortilla over and onto the medium-high skillet for 30 seconds. Flip over, still on medium-high skillet, for 10 seconds. Repeat this one more time. Then move tortilla to a plate and repeat with the other tortilla. (You can make this a more streamlined process by having the other tortilla pressed and between the plastic baggy, ready to go as soon as the first tortilla is done. If you’re cooking with multiple people, have a sous chef press the tortilla while you cook man the stove or vice versa.)

12. Prepare to be blown away.

Enjoy!
 

 

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Bae’s Scrambled Eggs

Confession time.

 I haven’t always been a foodie. 

For a long time, I was perfectly happy eating breakfast wraps from Starbucks and ice cream from the frozen food section of Walgreens. It was actually PIF who got me to really start viewing cooking and dining as an art. See, PIF grew up in India and then held fancy internships all throughout college that gave him exposure to great food (think The Fat Duck, Eleven Madison Park, and Indian Accent). He’d also followed chefs like Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay and had learned the basics of French cooking. When we first met, PIF (who was new to Chicago) would thoroughly research restaurants in city and take me to the best ones we could afford. Perhaps more importantly, he would also cook me food the “right” way. This was how I learned that I’d always been eating overcooked fish and dry scrambled eggs.

This recipe, which PIF adapted from an episode of a Gordon Ramsay TV show (let’s be real, it’s hard to keep them all straight) is simple yet delicate and refined, making it a perfect brunch dish. It’s also easy to make in large quantities if you’re entertaining.

 

 

Bae’s Scrambled Eggs
Inspired by Gordon Ramsay

Cook time: approximately 20 minutes
Serves 2

 3 eggs
2 T of butter
1 T heavy cream
salt
pepper
(optional) finely chopped chives
crusty bread

1. Add butter and eggs to a cold sauce pan.

2. Turn on low medium heat. Add eggs and whisk ingredients continuously as pan heats.

3. Keep whisking until scramble thickens. To prevent overcooking, lift pan off the heat for 10 seconds every so often while continuously stirring.

4. When folds begin to form and eggs are no longer watery (but still wet), remove pan from heat, add cream, and continue stirring. (Around this time, begin to toast slices of the crusty bread however you see fit. If toasting in the oven, make sure to preheat prior to beginning to cook the eggs.)

5. When cream is fully mixed, add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Serve with toasted bread and garnished with finely chopped chives

Want to take really this recipe to the next level? We love serving this dish with decadent roasted tomatoes, peppers, and red onions we can smear on the bread along with our eggs.

The *Best* Roasted Veggies

Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves 2

Ingredients:
2 red onions, cut into thick disks (approximately 3-4 disks per onion)
2-4 tomatoes on the vine, dependent on preference
2 whole red bell peppers
olive oil
salt
pepper

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees (F).

2. Without separating the rings, in a baking sheet with edges, place onions evenly spaced and, using a basting brush (the back of a spoon works too) coat both sides of the disk with a little olive oil. (Both onions should only require 2 t or so.) Also season each onion with the teeniest pinch of salt and pepper. If you do not have a gas stove, don’t despair, just coat tomatoes and peppers with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place on baking sheet as well.

3. As onions begin roasting, char first the peppers and then the tomatoes by turing the stove on high heat and placing the vegetables on the grate. As a side blackens, use tongs to flip the veggie to the next side.

4. When all four sides are nice and charred and the pepper is getting squishy, place them in a metal bowl and top with a plate. Do the same with the tomatoes, which will take less time (since they’re already quite squishy.) You’ll know they’re ready when the skin begins to break.*

5. Once all the veggies are done, toss very gently with a bit of salt, pepper, and olive oil and throw in the oven with the onions.

6. When onions are slightly brown on top, remove pan. Once they’ve cooled a bit, remove the skin from the peppers and use tongs to move peppers and tomatoes and a spatula to remove the onion disks to a serving plate. These veggies are great alone, so feel free to just smear them on toast. Otherwise, serve with the egg dish above!

Enjoy!

*Feast did a fantastic video about how to blacken veggies on the stove, which you can watch here

 

 

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Austin City Limits 2015

It literally took me a full week to mentally digest, reassess, and prepare this post about our trip to Austin, Texas for Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL).

If there’s one thing PIF and I love nearly as much as food, it’s music, and Weekend 2 of ACL could not have been more perfectly designed for us. I survived high school in part by listening to Modest Mouse and meanwhile, PIF has been listening to one of his favorite artists, Deadmau5, for 10 years (I know, lots of mice up in here — my dad has already made that joke).

Both Modest Mouse and Deadmau5 were playing during Weekend 2, and, if it couldn’t get any more perfect, Modest Mouse was the set right before Deadmau5 on the exact same stage. We’d never seen Modest Mouse together, but when PIF and I saw Deadmau5 together for the first time nearly a year ago, it was a night that *cliche alert* changed our lives — or at least our relationship (though I suppose they are one in the same). Deadmau5 was also doing an after-show, and we had gotten tickets to that so we’d be able to see his DJ set in a smaller venue. For these reasons alone, plus the chance to eat all we could in a new and fabulous food city, this was set to be a really special weekend.

Austin far exceeded our expectations.

When we reluctantly had to return home, we left agreeing that the best thing about Austin is that the food scene is so wonderfully creative. And I’m not just talking about the high-end, Michelin-starred, famously avant garde restaurants. Even the most affordable little cafes — nay, even the food stalls at the festival — were doing things we had never seen before.

Here are some of the highlights:

// Vox Table //

Smoked Hamachi Pipettes
 

As tasty as they are pretty and interesting – You slide all the speared goodies off with your teeth and then shoot the sauce inside the pipette into your mouth. 

Braised Akaushi Oxtail
We couldn’t resist – oxtail isn’t something you come by often. And this oxtail was so perfectly cooked, it literally melted in your mouth. And the little potato pillows were fantastic as well. 

 

// Odd Duck //

Raisin toast, pork belly, pb&j, fried egg, blue cheese, tomato jam
 

 

This dish shouldn’t work. But it does. Oh, but it does. PIF and I ate in stunned silence. Buttery pork belly with all the other fixings – this dish was gluttony incarnated. And yet, because it was somehow perfectly balanced, it was surprisingly light.
 
Hot & Crunchy – Avocado
Photo via Instagram by @thesimplesol
 
Everywhere we looked people were carrying tortilla-wrapped fried goodness stuck inside a cone cup that looks like something you pull from a water cooler. We finally got ourselves one and immediately regretted not getting these at the fest all weekend. Huge chunks of fried avocado, topped with all sorts of goodies, wrapped in a beautifully fresh tortilla and stuck in a paper cone that allows eaters to keep their hands clean! Brilliant! 
(Side note: The Mighty Cone is the reason I developed a cardinal rule of music festivals — only buy food from stalls that have a food truck. Why? They know how to either prepare food in a small space or know how to prep food that had to be transported.)

Chile Spiked Watermelon 
Photo via Instagram by @acleats
 
It was f*ing hot, we were probably dehydrated, and since we hadn’t yet discovered The Mighty Cone, we didn’t want to risk spending $10 on a shitty taco and the lines for smoothies and ice cream were about 100 people long. And that’s when I saw him. A man carrying a giant wedge of watermelon, covered in a deep red powder, walking away from a stall with a line only a few people long. We walked triumphantly past the hoards waiting for ice cream, because just from the smell of it, we knew this was going to be good. At it was. The only pit fall? Big hunks of juicy watermelon covered in red dust is really, really messy. Which is why I’ve adapted it to this much more white-shirt-friendly version:

 

Chile Spiked Watermelon (clean version)

Ingredients 
(per 2 cups watermelon)
 
watermelon
zest & juice from 1/4 of a lime
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
(less if you’re weak — just kidding. But 1/8 tsp will be pretty hot & spicy)
1/8 tsp salt
a few pinches of pepper
mint (optional)

Instructions
  1. Cut watermelon into bite-sized cubes.
  2. Grind together lime zest, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper using a mortar and pestle, or use the back of a spoon, until it’s a uniform dust.
  3. In a large ziplock bag, add watermelon and lime juice. Shake it up.
  4. In small batches, add dust and shake bag after each addition so that chunks get evenly coated. Repeat until all the dust has been added and watermelon cubes are evenly coated.
  5. Place in refrigerator and allow to sit for 30-60 mins. (This will allow the juices to soak in and the cooler watermelon is more refreshing, in my opinion. However, if you don’t want to wait, by all means go ahead and eat! It’s still very tasty.)
  6. (optional) Top with chopped mint.
  7. Serve!

 
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Not-Your-Grandma’s Oatmeal

 

 

Somehow over the years, warm oatmeal got a bad rep and cold overnight oats took over. This is truly a shame because overnight oats do not hold a candle against this decadent breakfast, no matter how much Nutella you shove into that mason jar.

Not-Your-Grandma’s Oatmeal


Cook time: 1 hour (or 1 minute if you plan ahead)
Serves 1

1/4 cup steel cut oats
1/2 cup water
salt
1/2 T brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
2 T ricotta
2 dates

  1. Add a healthy pinch of salt to the water and bring to boil in a sauce pan. (Note: use one size larger than you think you need to avoid overflow and messy stove tops.)
  2. When at full boil, sprinkle in oats and stir until oats begin to thicken (about 4-5 minutes).
  3. Chop the dates into little chunks.
  4. When oats thicken, bring heat to a simmer, cover and let sit until water has been absorbed and oats are thick and sticky (approximately just under an hour).
  5. While still hot, stir in cinnamon and brown sugar.
  6. Spoon finished oats into a bowl. Top with ricotta and dates.
  7. (optional) Eat while wrapped in a really big, warm blanket.
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The Tuna Melt

I suppose the best place to start is with my absolute favorite (of those we’ve made at home) breakfast item.

A while back, my partner-in-food (PIF) and I went to the The Publican for brunch and ordered the tuna melt, which was a hybrid of tuna melt and an…dare I say it…Egg McMuffin. It essentially is a perfectly runny egg, atop a piece of cheddar cheese and a mound of the best tuna salad I have ever had, all between an English muffin. And it is delicious.

 

 

 

One day PIF surprised me with brunch of a homemade Publican Tuna Melt. This was our first ever at home adaptation of a restaurant favorite and since then, we’ve developed it into our most beloved weekend breakfast.

 

The Tuna Melt
Inspired by The Publican (Chicago)

Cook time: approximately 30 minutes
Serves 1

1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 TBSP olive oil
Sriracha
cumin
garlic powder
2 ounces of tuna*
1/2 avocado
1 egg
1 slice of pepper jack cheese
1 whole wheat English muffin
(optional) handful of spinach
  1. Put olive oil in a skillet and bring the skillet to medium-high heat.
  2. When oil is hot, add mushrooms and red onion and sauté until soft.
  3. Add Sriracha, cumin, and garlic powder to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp of each and 2-3 Tbsp of Sriracha)
  4. Add tuna, reduce heat to medium-low, cover.
  5. In the meantime, mash avocado with some more garlic powder (~1/4 tsp) and put another skillet or flat pan on high heat (about an 8/10).
  6. Add spinach to the tuna mixture and stir so it is evenly distributed throughout. (Note: this will add moisture, so it may not be as crispy as without spinach. All about personal preference!)
  7. When tuna mixture is very soft and slightly crispy (this sounds like an oxymoron but you’ll see what I mean), make a mound of it in the center of the pan, cover with the slice of cheese, and turn off heat.
  8. Put a  few swipes of butter or olive oil spray on the empty hot skillet and crack an egg.
  9. Pop that English muffin in the toaster (or, if you don’t have a toaster, put it in the hot oven face up–plan ahead for this!)
  10. Cook egg to your liking, but try to only flip it once. If you like harder eggs like me (I know, I’m a disgrace to the culinary world…), I do about 2-3 minutes each side, which keeps the yolk bright yellow but cooked through.
  11. When English muffin is toasted, smear your mashed avocado on one side, use a spatula to put your tuna mixture on the other side, and top with the egg.

Enjoy!


*Pouches or tuna in water are better because the fish won’t be overcooked due to the canning process (for more info, read scene 4 of this Good Eats episode). In case bagged tuna is not available, canned tuna in water is fine.

 

 

 

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on perspective

This post was originally featured on my blog What the Health Now? before being transferred over to Three Times Per Day.

 

There comes a time, or more likely many times, when one is faced with circumstances that try his or her patience or anger management abilities. If you’re like me (i.e. you have a lot of emotions and/or character flaws, depending on who is talking), these events occur on a rather regular basis.

Throughout my childhood, I was a bully’s wet dream. I reacted to anything and everything, and vehemently. My intense reactions to stressors were nothing less than self-destructive. As a college student, I realized the error of my ways.

*FLASHBACK*

When I was in middle school, my local public library had a used book sale every afternoon. (Actually, they probably still do but that is irrelevant because this story is set in circa 2004) Quite often, I would stop by on a regular basis and impulse buy as many $1 to $2 books as I had money for.

One such book was called The Art of Keeping Cool.

No, it wasn’t a self-help book. It was some little-known fiction novel. And I actually never read it so this piece is not going to be on what I learned from this book. What it is going to be about is this: The Art of Keeping Cool.

From my 20 years of experience being part firecracker, part Energizer bunny, the most valuable lesson I have learned is The Art of Keeping Cool. I only became a novice in this art in the last, say, 6 months. But this skill, and some medication (kidding), have been correlated to an immense increase in my own personal happiness and in that of my amazingly tolerant friends, who no longer have to spend hours reassuring me that so-and-so was completely out of line or that X is probably not mad at me because I said I was going to that social gathering and then I didn’t go.

I call it, practicing perspective (patent pending).

“Da fuq,” you say, as you wonder why you’re taking advice from a neurotic twenty year old’s amateur blog.

But, seriously, it works.

Practicing perspective means when you start getting riled up–frustrated, annoyed, angry, embarrassed, disappointed, guilty, etc., etc., etc., you stop and think “Will I care about this in a week? Month? Year?”

If the answer is “no” to any of those time periods than it’s just not worth stressing over. Practicing perspective means keeping your eye on the big picture and adjusting where your emotional priorities lie accordingly.

It’s a simple method that works wonders. I imagine cardiologists and therapists all over the world would see a massive decrease in business if everyone would follow this method.

So just to recap:

In the event of a stressful situation…

1.) Take a deep breath

2.) Think “Will this matter in…”

          a) 1 week

          b) 1 month

          c) 1 year

If no–exhale–and move on. Don’t spend any further time worrying your pretty (or handsome) little head on it. You time can be better spent on worrying about all the things you answered “yes” to for a) b) or c). 

Now get off this blog and go enjoy your life!

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on getting tired of people

This post was originally featured on my blog What the Health Now? before being transferred over to Three Times Per Day.

 

I once overheard a conversation that went something like this:

Person A: “Everyone at this school is socially awkward. I’m socially awkward, you’re kind of socially awkward…”

Person B: “What? I’m not socially awkward. I just hate everyone.”

Okay, I mostly wanted to post this exchange because I found it hilarious but I also realized there was something blog-worthy in here.

Sometimes, for no particular reason, a friend whom I have been very much enjoying spending time with will just suddenly start annoying me. He or she has not done anything to me, their behavior has likely not changed, but suddenly it feels as though I am metaphorically gasping for air every time I am in close proximity to this person. Slowly, I find little things annoying me and eventually I can’t even force myself to answer their text messages and I have to suppress an eye roll and force a response to everything they say.

I’m not saying this is rational or fair, I’m just remarking on my experience after recently discovering one of my friends experiences the same phenomenon.

For people like us–or maybe this is a common thing–our relationships with others can be viewed as cups that are filled with water as you spend time with that person. When the cups are full, you are sick of that person. Continuing to add water just causes the cup to overflow and causes a mess. Instead, you need to let that cup sit and wait for some of that excess water to evaporate out before adding more. With some people, the cup is more…uh..exposed to the sun. Thus, that cup evaporates faster, sometimes even so fast you seem to never grow sick of them. With others, it’s so cold that the cup is frozen full.

Did you follow that?

I think that by viewing these friendships as cups of water, it’s easier to stay patient and avoid dramas. When I can see my cup is getting full, I know it’s time to take a little breather and let some water evaporate before I have a big mess everywhere that I have to clean up. Sometimes this means I need to push that cup a little further into the sun with an open conversation or a lot of vigorous exercise, like boxing.

I don’t know that this is a common experience, but if it is I think it helps to know others feel the same and realize it’s not mean or rude to wait for some water to evaporate–it’s necessary. Well, unless you want to continuously be on clean up duty. Some people like doing that shit.

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