Savory Plantain Splits

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If you have been reading for awhile, or if you have taken some time to dig around here, you may know that one of my very first posts was a recipe for Tostones, fried plantains. I started Vegology to chronicle my adventures in the kitchen, particularly with ingredients and methods that were new to me. In the beginning, I was two years into vegetarianism and five years into my home cooking habit. I had started to be more adventurous in the kitchen and found new and exciting ingredients at the farmers’ market weekly. There were so many options that I had to consciously spread them out so that I wouldn’t bite off more new ingredients than I could chew each week. Now, three years later, I have to search a little harder to find ingredients that are brand new to me. There are still as many ingredients that I haven’t tried as there are stars in the sky, but I do have to look a little farther beyond my local farmers’ market to find them.

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Take, for example, jackfruit, which I discovered was an excellent stand-in for pulled pork last year. You can find a lot of things at a Virginia farmers’ market, but jackfruit is not one of them. Soba is another, and epazote yet another. So I have discovered a lot of my new-to-me ingredients over the last several months in specialty stores and grocers. However not every showstopper meal requires a trip to the end of the earth for exotic ingredients. When I am working with my same old kitchen staples, I try to reinvent the classics to get that jolt of adrenaline that I often do from novel food. Which leads me to the star of this show, the Cuban plantain split.

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Inspired by the elaborate and aesthetically appealing arrangement of the components of the classic ice cream shop creation, the banana split, I set out to make a savory version with starchy, green plantains instead of bananas. I often associate plantains with Cuban food, so I started brainstorming in that direction. I came up with my vegetarian paella to start. Then I recalled a Cuban dish that I made in my pre-vegetarian days, consisting of shredded meat, tomato sauce, spices, and green olives. Ropa vieja is like a Cuban sloppy joe, except that it’s so much better. Stuck at two scoops, I reached out to a foodie friend to come up with the third: slow simmered Cuban-inspired black beans.

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Topped with cilantro, avocado, a drizzle of hot sauce and a spritz of lime, this is a hearty vegan dish with complex flavors and a variety of textures. If you have an open mind, it is seriously fun to eat, and if you’re up to the challenge, it is easy to stuff yourself with this spicy comfort food. But let’s be real. This dish is a ridiculous time commitment.

Realistically, you’re going to get four separate recipes out of this post and you may never make them all at once like I did. To make them all together and assemble the plantain split masterpieces from scratch, it took me and another cook two hours in the kitchen, working together with no idle time. In the end, we agreed the result was worth it. But then again, I’m the kind of person who considers a night spent in the kitchen revamping the classics while chopping several pounds of produce and dancing to samba music to be a great time. If you are not that ambitious (or crazy?) each component takes less than an hour on its own and can be paired with a fresh salad for a quick, flavorful and filling meal.

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Cuban Plantain Splits

Prepare one batch of each: Split Plantains, Vegetarian Ropa Vieja, Cuban Black Beans, and Quick Vegetarian Paella. Arrange plantain halves along the long side of an oval shaped dish. Arrange one scoop of each of the other components, in a row between the plantain halves. Top with chopped fresh cilantro and fresh avocado. Serve with hot sauce if desired. Serves 4-6.

Split Plantains

Ingredients:

  • 4 large green (unripe) plantains
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Preparation:

  1. With a sharp small knife cut ends from each plantain and cut a lengthwise slit through skin. Cut plantains once lengthwise and once crosswise into quarters. Beginning at slit, pry skin from pieces.
  2. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet heat 1/2 inch oil over moderate heat until just hot enough to sizzle when a plantain piece is added. Fry plantains in batches, without crowding, until tender and just golden, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. With tongs transfer plantains as fried to paper towels to drain.
  3. Remove skillet from heat and reserve oil. With the bottom of a heavy saucepan or a wide solid metal spatula flatten plantains to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Into a bowl of warm salted water dip flattened plantains, 1 at a time, and drain them well on paper towels.
  5. Heat reserved oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and fry flattened plantains in batches, without crowding, until golden, about 3 minutes. With tongs transfer tostones as fried to paper towels to drain and season with salt if desired.

Vegetarian Ropa Vieja

Ingredients:

  • 2- 10 oz. cans jackfruit in water, drained
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 small green pepper, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1- 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1- 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup green olives with pimiento, sliced or halved
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add jackfruit and cook until browned, about six minutes. Remove from pan and shred jackfruit until the texture resembles that of pulled meat.
  2. Add onion, green pepper, and garlic to pan. Saute until translucent. Add ground cumin to pan and cook, while stirring, for 30 seconds.
  3. Add fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, vinegar, and broth. Bring to simmer, then lower heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add olives, salt and pepper just before serving. Top with fresh cilantro.

Cuban Black Beans

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
    • OR 1 teaspoon dried oregano plus 1 teaspoon dried epazote
  • 2- 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Heat oil in a large sauce sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, garlic, and oregano, and epazote if using. Saute until translucent.
  2. Mash 1 cup of beans with fork, or blend in food processor, Add mashed beans, remaining whole beans, vegetable broth and vinegar to pan.
  3. Cook 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring often.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Quick Vegetarian Paella

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup medium grain white rice
  • 6 saffron threads
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup fresh vegetables, diced (I used zucchini, carrots, and peas)
  • 1- 6 oz. jar quartered, marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 4 oz. tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Prepare rice according to package directions to produce 3 cups prepared rice.
  2. Boil 1/2 cup water in a small sauce pan. Turn off burner. Add saffron threads, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Strain water into a bowl and discard threads.
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and saute until tender.
  4. Add vegetables, saffron water, artichoke hearts, vegetable broth, tomato sauce, and garlic to soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add rice and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Fancy Tomato Sandwiches with Hummus and Goats R Us Greek Chevre Dip

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When tomatoes are good, they are so very good. And when they are out of season, they are so very bad.

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While we have the pleasure of seasonal tomatoes’ company, we should enjoy them every chance we get. However, some people get a little tired of tomatoes this time of year and need to change up their usual tomato sandwich. I suggest they trade up to this “fancy” tomato sandwich instead.

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It’s easy enough to pack for lunch and sophisticated enough to make for dinner. Recently I made these on a Friday night when Kyle and I were headed out to Crossroads in Forest Hill to watch some live music. This sandwich was quick, easy, and very satisfying. It helped to lay a good carb and protein foundation for the libations we were about to consume, without filling us up so much that we couldn’t enjoy a beer (or three).

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This sandwich is a tale of two spreads. In one corner, Greek Chevre Dip from Goats R Us (found at Ellwood Thompson’s Natural Market and the South of the James farmers’ market). In the other corner, homemade black bean hummus.

To make the black bean hummus, simply puree in a food processor: 1 can black beans (rinsed and drained), 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon fresh dill, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread the hummus on one slice of bread, and the Greek chevre dip on the other. If you don’t have the Greek chevre dip, substitute any fresh chevre or tzatziki.

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You may see the rest of the ingredients in this sandwich and ask, “Black beans? Really? Why not white beans?” Sure, the flavors might make more sense with Cannelinis or Great Northerns, but the color of this hummus is the reason for black beans. It looks great opposite the white chevre dip, with bright red tomato and dark green spinach sandwiched in between. But really you could use whatever beans you want.

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Stuff the sandwich with fresh sliced tomato and spinach. Add whatever other vegetables you have on hand. Cook each sandwich on a panini press or grill until dark brown grill marks appear and the sandwich is warmed throughout. Serve with a side of fresh veggies.

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So Rad

I know, it’s probably weird. I had never bought radishes before. Is that weird? Do you buy radishes on the regular? I had never cooked with them before, until I recently picked some up at the farmers’ market. They are so adorable and healthy but I never think to incorporate them into my meal plans. Luckily. I had saved this one recipe that called for radishes for about 18 months. The magazine clipping was neatly tucked into my recipe binder and calling out to me for over a year. Consequently my desire to make Cuban black beans and rice was the impetus for my first radish purchase.

Radishes are members of the cruciferous vegetable family, along with broccoli, cabbage, kale and turnips. They are thought to have originated in China and were then brought to the Greek and Roman empires, where they were admired and used often. They were introduced to North America in the early to mid 1600’s. Today there are several different varieties, with the red or scarlet globe variety the most popular one in the United States.

Radishes are high in vitamin C and glucosinolates, which are compounds that act in the body to fight off carcinogens before they do damage to our cells. They are also a good source of potassium and water. Radishes aid in digestion because they are full of water and are considered an indigestible carbohydrate. They are popular among dieters because they give you the feeling of being full with a relatively low calorie content. Personally I just think they are crunchy and delicious. I wasn’t really a big fan before bringing them into my own kitchen, but now I am a believer.

I followed the recipe from Real Simple magazine for Cuban Black Beans and Rice almost exactly and this dish turned out to be quick, easy and very tasty. The only changes I made were substituting brown rice for white rice and adding a good amount of hot sauce (I blame Kyle for that habit).

I used the leftover radish pieces in a salad the next day and I tried slices in my veggie wrap later that week. I would like to try slices of fresh radish in a hot panini next time. And believe me – there will be a next time.

What ingredient have you been meaning to try? I challenge you to bring a new item that you have never bought before into your kitchen this week. Let me know how it goes!

Ready for 2011

I have had quite a year, and to tell you the truth, when midnight rolled around, I was happy to kiss 2010 goodbye. While attending a lovely party last night, my dearest friends and I toasted to life, to luck, to friends, to family, to the end of 2010, and to the start of 2011. While I’m being honest here, I’ll admit that there was a whole lot of toasting going on.

Because it is in my research-y nature to read up on various subjects that interest me, I spent a bit of time over the last week learning about New Year traditions and superstitions from around the world. Previously I had a limited knowledge of what practices were believed to bring luck in the coming year. Basically it was limited to the practice of putting on a party dress and glitter mascara, drinking a gallon of champagne, and hoping to get lucky, along with something about eating twelve grapes at midnight. Clearly I needed a little culture.

We’ll start in the Southern United States since that is where I currently reside. People from here traditionally eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Eve and Day because they are thought to bring you luck in the next year. When I was asked to bring an appetizer to the New Year’s Eve party, I knew I had to incorporate a little superstition into my dish. I had not heard before that black eyed peas held the keys to luck and wealth, so I was skeptical as to the prevalence of this superstition in modern times. However it was apparent that there are still plenty of believers when I picked up the last can of black eyed peas off the grocery store shelf. They were already out of dried peas, and I was able to snatch up the last can just in time.

I discovered a lot of lucky foods that are eaten to ensure wealth and prosperity. Many of them are round foods that symbolize coins. This brings us back to the grapes I mentioned earlier; Spaniards eat twelve round grapes at midnight. This custom is found in various South American countries as well. I personally took my midnight grapes in bubbly liquid form this year. Does that count?

Other round foods that are believed to be lucky are lentils, round cakes (Greece and Mexico), and dough fritters called ollie bollen in the Netherlands. Greens are also eaten due to their resemblance to folded cash. Stewed kale is eaten in Denmark and collard greens are eaten in the southern U.S. The Japanese eat noodles for luck, and the belief is that you must not break or chew them until the entire length of the noodle is in your mouth. Pomegranates are eaten for luck in Mediterranean countries. I have already shared a ton of ways to enjoy pomegranate seeds here in case you want to try them out yourself.

I personally created two dishes this year, not necessarily because I believe in the superstition, but because I like to be festive and I believe in good foods. I think you will find both of these recipes to be good in more ways than one. And if you aren’t into eating your way to good luck in 2011, you could steal a page from the Mexicans’ book and express your superstition via your undergarments. In Mexico and many other countries, red underwear is worn on New Year’s Eve to bring the wearer luck in love, and yellow is worn to guarantee wealth and prosperity.

As for me, I think I’ll stick to the legumes and the greens. They have yet to fail me.

Lucky Black-eyed Pea Dip (serves a small army)

Ingredients:

1-15 oz can black-eyed peas

1-15 oz can black beans

1-15 oz can white beans (Great Northern or Cannelini)

1-15 oz can white corn

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup finely chopped parsley

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp hot sauce

Preparation:

1. Rinse and drain black-eyed peas, beans, and corn and combine in a large mixing bowl.

2. To the bean mixture, add onion, garlic, and parsley and stir to combine.

3. In a separate small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, basil, and hot sauce. Add dressing to bean mixture and stir to combine.

4. Refrigerate 4 to 24 hours and serve with tortilla chips.

And for New Year’s Day. . .

Potato, Kale, and Lentil Stew (serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups mirepoix (any combination of diced onion, carrots, and/or celery will do – use what you have on hand)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup red wine

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced in 1/2-inch cubes (or whatever you have on hand, seriously, this is like peasant stew)

6 cups vegetable broth

1 cup small green lentils

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

4-5 cups kale, torn into 1- to 2-inch pieces

Preparation:

1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add mirepoix and garlic and saute until onion is almost translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add red wine to the pot and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add potatoes, vegetable broth, and lentils. Add cumin, coriander, and cayenne and stir to combine. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes or until lentils are not quite al dente.

4. Add salt, pepper, and kale to pot. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more.

5. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve in large bowls to your gaggle of hungry and slightly hungover friends, who are yearning for health and prosperity in the new year.

Cheers anyone?

A Very Veggie Christmas 2010

For the first time that I can remember, Christmas was not a Major Production brought to you by the McDonald household. Dad was recovering from a minor surgery, which gave us the excuse to have a quiet, relaxed Christmas at home this year. We woke up in the morning to fresh brewed coffee and pastries and we tore into our gifts. However, this year we didn’t have to rush through presents and quickly pick up and run to the kitchen to start preparing food. I especially enjoyed being able to watch my family members open their gifts and seeing their reactions to the presents I had carefully chosen for them. They reciprocated with some great thoughtful gifts too!

Here are some highlights…

Gadgetry:

I asked for the Joby Gorillapod and I am so excited to be able to take photos with my point-and-shoot in odd places with my new versatile tripod. With the surprise video camera, my family has requested more videos on facebook and the blog (eek!) and now I have no excuse. What should my next video be?

The Rec Stuff:

I’m super psyched to go hiking and biking in my new wool socks. Kyle got a hiking book and some socks too so I think we’ll be heading out with our packs and our camera and gorillapod soon! I also got a sweet lime green lock for my cute bike, and a Rodney Yee DVD.

Kitchen Toys:

Finally, a mandoline!

A serious triple timer! No more burning the granola!

We took our time getting ready as the snow fell lightly, dusting the ground and making it the first White Christmas in a long time. When the snow cleared up, we took a trip from Bel Air into Hunt Valley to visit with Mom’s side of the family and then came home to make a vegetarian dinner for four.

I can’t remember ever having a Christmas without ham, but with three out of four family members going vegetarian, a very veggie Christmas made sense. Mom was a great sport; she didn’t even sneak a steak onto the grill for herself. I’ll have to make it up to her somehow.

It was great to share the kitchen with Mom on Christmas, without all the stress of having to feed an army of family members. As we all got settled in, I started dicing onions and Mom said, “shall we commence the drinking?”

White Christmas? Oh, no. It was a Red Christmas for me. A Cabernet Christmas to be exact.

It looks like we were cooking dinner vegology-style. Who needs printed recipes when you have a laptop and two square feet of counter space?

A wire cooling rack makes a great laptop stand! One thing that was missing was my santoku. I am seriously spoiled by my cutlery and rarely have to hack into one of these with such a small knife.

I didn’t butcher it too badly though, all things considered.

We made a delicious little menu of spaghetti squash, black bean cakes, and roasted vegetables.

We ended the night with some seasonal cookies: eggnog, cranberry, and pumpkin. Then we had a Christmas night viewing of my favorite holiday movie, Love Actually.

Hope you had a joyous weekend. Stay warm!

Monday Night Vegetables

Watching football is all about good beer and great finger food. However as vegetarians, we are somewhat limited in our football food choices. Most people watch football with a side of chicken wings, a burger, a meaty bowl of hot chili, or a pile of loaded nachos. When Kyle and I go out to catch a game, we often find ourselves hovering around the veggie tray, as it is the only option that suits our diet. And let’s face it: celery and carrot sticks are tasty but they don’t exactly pair well with a frosty mug of beer. Or shouting at the television. Or shouting at your friends, for that matter.

When football is at our place, I always make sure we have great food that fits both our diet and the situation: watching sports. Think mean and meaty; taste lean and veggie. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

This week we used Monday Night Football as an excuse to test a recipe we’ve been dying to try: Green Bean Fries!

We used to love the version served at a popular chain restaurant that we haven’t visited in a very long time. In an attempt to be just a little healthier, I chose to forego the deep fryer and bake them instead.

First I blanched some green beans.

Then I coated them in flour and shook them.

After dipping them in a mixture of egg and milk, I tossed them in a large plastic bag with: bread crumbs, garlic powder, oregano, black pepper, and chili powder.

Then I placed them in  single layer on a baking sheet and baked for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

And served with Southwestern ranch dressing.

Now this is a veggie tray that means business.

Add a big burger and it gets real serious.

We had our green bean fries with homemade black bean veggie burgers topped with ricotta-cheddar-stuffed Carmen peppers, fresh tomatoes, and brown mustard on sesame buns.

Full disclosure: these green beans were as dry as my sense of humor at the end of a tough week at the office. We had a few and then gave in and threw them in a saute pan with some hot oil to crisp them up a little. Delicious.

Add one two Hofbrau Oktoberfest beers and. . . Game on!

Tomatillos!

That word is so much fun to say, I have to accent it with an exclamation point.

I picked up these tomatillos last week at the farmers’ market and couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen.

After a bit of research, I found some creative ideas online and I also had a recipe that had been calling my name from the bookshelf for a while. The tart green tomatillos sat on my counter in their papery husks while I searched for inspiration. I had purchased the last little container of tomatillos from the farmer’s stand, and because they were so delicate and so rare this time of year, I wanted to make sure I gave them the dish that they deserved.

Tomatillos look like small green tomatoes, but they taste quite different. Because the tomatillo is covered by a papery husk, the fruit itself has a smooth skin and is free of blemishes. Their insides are white and less juicy than a tomato. They taste tart when eaten raw, however I read that they can be very inconsistent in flavor; some are sour and tangy, while some are mild and sweet. That reminded me of a box of assorted chocolates, which made me even more excited for the challenge.

I have been holding on to this recipe for nearly two years, trying to muster the courage to a) use tomatillos for the first time, b) bake something in a pumpkin for the first time, and c) spend three hours in the kitchen for one dish. Item (c) would not be a first for me, but it definitely takes some energy and concentration to pull off. Because I didn’t want to turn the entire apartment into an oven by cooking hot stew all afternoon, and because the recipe isn’t exactly seasonally appropriate, I decided to hold off on Spicy Fall Stew Baked in a Pumpkin. That I can look forward to for just a couple months more. Instead I decided to go with a classic that we could enjoy in a variety of dishes all week: Salsa Verde!

I can thank Tyler Florence for guiding me through this meal. I used both his salsa verde recipe and his roasted corn recipe to make these delicious summer tacos.

Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa (adapted from Tyler Florence, Food Network.com)

Ingredients

8-10 tomatillos, husked and halved

1/2 white onion, quartered

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, diced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup fresh cilantro

1/2 lime, juiced

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Cover a baking tray with aluminum foil. Roast tomatillos, onion, garlic, and jalapenos on baking tray in oven for 10-12 minutes.

3. Transfer the roasted vegetables and any juices in the bottom of the tray to a food processor. Add the cumin, salt, cilantro, and lime juice and pulse until the mixture is smooth.

And it was delicious. Here are some of the dishes I used it in this week:

Black Bean and Corn Tacos with Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa

I found these great whole wheat wraps for these tacos:

First, make some oven roasted corn on the cob. I couldn’t believe how easy this was and how much better the corn tasted when it roasted in its own juices.

Next remove the corn kernels from the cob.

Heat some black beans over the stove and warm the tortillas. While the beans and tortillas are warming, prepare the following toppings:

  • diced tomatoes
  • diced avocado sprinkled with lime juice
  • grated monterey jack cheese
  • roasted tomatillo chile salsa

Lay out a buffet of ingredients and assemble your own tacos. This is one of my favorite warm-weather meals! 🙂

Green Eggs No Ham

I used some of the tomatillo salsa on this tasty breakfast that I am calling Green Eggs No Ham Sandwiches:

Here are the ingredients. I am sure you can figure out how to put them together:

  • Two slices of Arnold’s Health Nut bread, toasted
  • 1/4 cup baby spinach, chopped
  • Two cage-free organic eggs, fried (not too hard, not too runny)
  • Grated cheese (an amount that I will not admit to) – I chose monterey jack, Kyle chose cheddar
  • Salt and pepper
  • One messy dollop of roasted tomatillo chile salsa

I love Saturdays.